Caution and cloud cover help fuel James Hinchcliffe to first podium finish at Toronto Indy

It wasn’t the win he had hoped for but James Hinchliffe held his head high after finishing third at the Toronto Indy on Sunday afternoon.

He delivered his first ever podium finish at the event which he dreamed of racing in as he grew up in nearby Oakville, Ont., about 40 kilometres west of the city. 

“There is no doubt this is going to be a highlight day in the career reel, the memory reel,” said the 29-year-old.  “Hopefully we can better it in the future, it would be so great to win here but I’ve just always wanted to give the Toronto fans a good result because they have been so supportive day-in and day-out from the start of my IndyCar career.” 

Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line on fumes, having last pitted on lap 47, and benefitted from a caution flag on the final lap.

It was at that point when he learned from his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team that there was enough fuel to use his two remaining push-to-pass options, which increases the car’s horsepower for a short period of time.

“When that yellow came out, that was the big thing,” he said.  “It wasn’t just to make it (over the finish line), it was to have enough in the tank to use the overtakes at the end.  They use a fair amount of fuel.  I wasn’t able to use them without that yellow.  With it, we were able to do that and make sure the restart kind of went our way.”   

Finally some good luck for a driver that has had plenty of the opposite over the years.  Last summer he was unable to race in Toronto due to a horrific injury sustained in May at the Indy 500.

“I saw everybody in the last section get to their feet and I was just hoping I didn’t screw this up,” he said.  “It was obviously a great day to have a good day and for once we caught a lucky break in Toronto.” 

His highest previous finish at the Toronto Indy was eighth in 2014 and 2013.

A change in the weather also benefited Hinchcliffe when cloud cover blocked the sun over the latter third of the 85 total laps.

The durable black tires he was using which are good for racing on a gritty course like the one in Toronto were not suiting him well on the hot track, but as it cooled, he was able to find a better grip.

“I’m not going to lie and sit here and say we had a third place pace,” he said.  “We really struggled on the blacks in the middle stint.  But as the cloud cover came out in that last stint, the track really kind of came to us so we had to save fuel.”

Hinchcliffe had a promising start to the weekend when he finished qualifying in 6thplace on Saturday, the best he has ever done in Toronto since he began racing at this level in 2011.

Austrailian Will Power came first with a time of 1:42:38:6925, ahead of Brazilian Helio Castroneves who was 1.5 seconds behind in second.

Castroneves was complimentary of Hinchcliffe, citing his adaptability to racing for a new team (his third in five seasons since debuting in IndyCar) and ability to make the podium on what was considered a very rough course.

“People don’t realize when you change teams, it is very difficult to adapt, obviously what he is doing, again with a different team, he’s showing talent there,” said the 41-year-old veteran of 15 seasons.  “Finishing in the top-three on a very bumpy track, difficult conditions, definitely it was a great result.”

After an intense week that was filled with the commitments which come from being the face of Canadian autoracing, Hinchcliffe said he plans on going to his cottage to wind down before closing out the final five races of the season.

Hinchcliffe holds eighth spot in the IndyCar series standings with 299 points, one behind American rookie Alexander Rossi.

“A win is a win, you can’t take that away,” he said of his performance on Sunday.  “But truly, to be up on the podium is almost as good a feeling here.”

Follow Neil Acharya on Twitter: @Neil_Acharya