TORONTO — The job of hosting the Honda Indy Toronto after-party has always fallen on the shoulders of hometown hero James Hinchcliffe — regardless of how he'd raced earlier in the day.
Racing to his second consecutive third-place finish on Sunday, the party is that much sweeter, Hinchcliffe said, after a decent result.
"The joke was we're either going to have a reason to celebrate or commiserate," Hinchcliffe said, laughing. "Luckily we're going out. Last year and this year, it's been to celebrate.
The 30-year-old from nearby Oakville, Ont., told the delighted Toronto crowd that this race is his "Christmas in July," and then sped to third place behind winner Josef Newgarden and runner-up Alexander Rossi.
The race remains without a Canadian winner since 1993, when Toronto native Paul Tracy captured the checkered flag on the streets surrounding Exhibition Place.
Hinchcliffe's result was his third podium finish on a road course this season. He won the Grand Prix of Long Beach in April and was third in the first of two races at the Detroit Grand Prix in June. Sunday's podium finish bumped him up from 12th to 10th in the drivers standings.
Hinchcliffe, who's in his seventh IndyCar season, is thrilled his luck is finally changing after some lean early years racing at home.
"We had lots of luck when we came here before. It was all bad luck," he said, prompting laughter from reporters. "Nice that the last two years it's kind of changed. I would be remiss to not mention that both these podiums really came as a result of strategy going our way and yellow flags falling our way."
Starting sixth, Hinchcliffe moved up to fifth on Lap 25 after a crash by Tony Kanaan caused a caution. He moved up to third on Lap 38, where he remained for virtually the rest of the race.
The rain that had been a concern all week, held off until the finish, despite ominous black clouds that blanketed the sky over the course for the last half of the race.
"Even the end of the first stint, there were a couple drops coming down on the visor," Hinchcliffe said. "The clouds were looking really dark as you were coming through Turn 5, heading into 6, you'd kind of see them. I didn't want to get on the radio and ask because I didn't really want to know, if I'm honest."
Hinchcliffe praised the hometown crowds that packed the grandstands surrounding Exhibition Place, and gave him a roaring ovation on his pre-race parade lap.
"The support I feel from this city grows every single year, it's just incredible," he said. "I don't think I've seen the grandstands that full here, certainly since I've been behind the wheel.
"Even Friday I remember sitting in the car in pit lane, looking up at the stands (thinking) 'Man this is a Friday, this is really impressive,'" he added. "It's so awesome feeling the energy back in this event, it's obviously one that has meant a lot to me for a long time."
Hinchcliffe, who rebounded from serious injuries suffered in a crash in practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500, and finished runner up on last year's "Dancing With The Stars," was asked about his obvious popularity in Canada, and the responsibility following in the footsteps of Tracy and Co.
"It's crazy to think for so many years I was the kid with a card and a Sharpie chasing drivers around the paddock," he said. "It's a bit surreal to think that's now kind of my role. I try to do well with it. I try to be a good role model for kids. I try to represent the city of Toronto and the whole country as well as I can. I feel that. I feel that responsibility."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press