James Hinchcliffe is a rare IndyCar driver: He has a personality, and it's a likable one. He calls himself the "Mayor of Hinchtown," which, as far as I can tell, is not an incorporated municipality in any state. Well, he just had a dynamite run in St. Petersburg to win his first ever IndyCar race.
IndyCar's season kicked off today in St. Petersburg. The best name in motorsports, Will Power, started from pole and led early, putting his normal gap on the field. But then four-time champion and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti hit the wall on cold tires, capping off a weekend that he will want to forget.
A lot of other drivers had issues too. Impressive rookie Tristan Vautier dropped out with engine issues. Clutch problems claimed Oriol Servia and Harlem Shake-enthusiast Josef Newgarden. Electronics issues plagued Graham Rahal. Ana Beatriz dropped out with "mechanical issues." Defending champ Ryan Hunter-Reay also had electric gremlins rear their head throughout the day.
Dario's crash led to a yellow, and Team Penske's Helio Castroneves took over the lead on the restart. All the while, Hinchcliffe was lurking, just biding his time.
Another driver was having the race of their career, and it was KV Racing driver Simona de Silvestro. The badass Swiss Miss started the race in third and fell back a little at the start, but she kept her nose clean and avoided trouble. That got her back up to third, where she drove brilliantly while saving fuel. But the tires ended up biting her. The softer "red" tires gave up with two laps to go, and you could just tell that Sim had zero grip front or rear. Heading into the final lap, Sim ran wide in the final turn, which opened the door for Marco Andretti, who drove better than we've seen in years, to come through.
Then her teammate Tony Kanaan came through. Then, on the final turn of the final lap, a thrilling three wide finish dropped her back to sixth. Still, an awesome drive from Sim who somehow stayed ahead of everyone on awful tires. She's finally with a decent team and a win this season is definitely not out of the question.
So what happened to Will Power? Well, under yellow after another series of spins, he was just minding his own business, tra la la la la, and Panther Racing's J.R. Hildebrand ran him over. Literally. For his part, Hildebrand owned up to the mistake:
Obviously gutted for @12willpower, was communicating with team when field slowed up, entirely my fault and very disappointed for his result.— JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand) March 24, 2013
Power ended up in P16, obviously not what he wanted.
But the finish is all about the Mayor of Hinchtown. It's an especially poignant win, since St. Pete is the home of the late Dan Wheldon. In 2011, Wheldon signed to drive the Go Daddy car just before he died in Las Vegas. Hinchcliffe, who idolizes the late Greg Moore, was chosen to replace Wheldon.
This means a lot to Hinch. I can't think of a more universally liked driver in the IndyCar paddock. Great race, great win.
Photo Credits: Getty Images