Returning to Southern California, where he found fame as runner-up last winter in "Dancing with the Stars", James Hinchcliffe took his Honda into the lead of Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Lap 63 and never looked back, dominating the final 22 laps for his fifth career Verizon IndyCar Series victory and first win of 2017.
"After Indy, and personally, for me, Toronto, Long Beach is the biggest race to win." said Hinchcliffe "I've had a lot of luck here. We've been really quick here in the past and to finally get to Victory Lane here is more than I can put into words. Forty-three years running, this place has a lot of history. That's what drivers really care about. The greatest of the greats have won here. Toronto, Indy and this place were on my bucket list to win before I die, and it's nice to check this one off."
The win was also the second in as many events for Honda to start the 2017 Indy car season, as Sebastien Bourdais followed up his victory at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a second-place result today on the demanding Long Beach temporary street circuit.
"We played to our strengths." said Bourdais "I've always been pretty comfortable saving fuel, and [the race] just came to us. After the last restart, I was just trying to hang on to second place; I didn't really have a very good balance in the car at the end to chase James [Hinchcliffe] for the win, so I tried to hold on to second. Fortunately, we were able to do so. It's still very early in the season, but it's always better to be leading the championship rather than chasing!"
Hinchcliffe and his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team made their winning move on Lap 56 of the 85-lap Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, as he stayed on track for one additional lap after his primary rivals pitted. The extra speed provided by running that lap free of traffic, plus an excellent pit stop from the Schmidt Peterson crew, gave Hinchcliffe the lead for the final 22 laps and the victory.
Despite having to pit at the end of the first lap to replace a rear wing damaged from contact, Sebastien Bourdais again took advantage of both speed in his Honda and excellent pit strategy from his Dale Coyne Racing team to move through the field. He was running a solid third in the closing laps when second-place Ryan Hunter-Reay was forced out of the race with mechanical issues. Bourdais finished 1.4-seconds behind Hinchcliffe at the checkers.
As typical at a street circuit race, contact and mechanical issues either slowed or eliminated several possible Honda contenders. Tony Kanaan twice had his progress hindered by contact and resulting damage, and Mikhail Aleshin also came into contact with other cars twice before finishing 12th. In addition to Hunter-Reay, the front-running Honda of Alexander Rossi also dropped out with mechanical issues on Lap 62.
On a happier note, Scott Dixon recovered from an early-race pit strategy gamble that failed, to rebound for fourth at the checkers for Chip Ganassi Racing, while rookie Ed Jones made an excellent Long Beach debut, with the 2016 Indy Lights champion netting sixth place today.
After a weekend off for Easter, the Verizon IndyCar Series next heads east to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama, for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, to be televised live on the NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 23.
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