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AVONDALE, La. (April 12, 2015) – James Hinchcliffe had a premonition midway through the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana when his crew ordered him not to make a pit stop like the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field leaders at NOLA Motorsports Park. The hunch came true when the Canadian took the checkered flag to win a wild and unpredictable series debut on the 2.74-mile road course outside New Orleans.
Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda, won under a full-course caution ahead of Helio Castroneves, in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. The race, run in changing track conditions after heavy morning rains, ended after 47 laps due to the 1-hour, 45-minute time limit. It marks the fourth career Indy car victory for Hinchcliffe and fifth for his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.
Most of the front-runners came to the pits on Lap 33 during a full-course caution, but Robert Gue, Hinchcliffe’s race strategist on the team pit stand, ordered the 28-year-old to remain on course and he inherited the lead. The race would see only three more green-flag laps the rest of the way, allowing Hinchcliffe – whose lone pit stop came on Lap 13 – to keep Castroneves and the rest of the field at bay.
“When we first decided to stay out, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper?’” said Hinchcliffe, whose last win came on the Iowa Speedway oval in June 2013. “I just never thought it (would happen). On one hand, I feel badly that we didn’t have more green-flag laps for the fans and everybody here at NOLA, but on the other hand, those guys called it awesome.
“The car was unbelievable on the (Firestone) reds. We pulled away from a couple of Penskes on those restarts. If we had gone green, I think we could’ve held them off at the end as long as we had the fuel. I’m just so happy.”
James Jakes, Hinchcliffe’s teammate, came home third in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Simona de Silvestro, in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, placed fourth ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Montoya, who won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29, retains the provisional points lead with 84, 10 ahead of Castroneves. Will Power, who finished seventh in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevy, sits third in points (70) while Hinchcliffe is fourth (65).
The race began with a wet track, but the first 15 laps were run caution-free as the entire field started on the grooved Firestone rain tires. Teams began switching to the dry-condition slicks on Lap 11, but with portions of the 13-turn circuit still wet, numerous on-track incidents allowed for just six green-flag laps over the final 32 circuits.
Hinchcliffe was also happy to give Honda the victory after a rough start for the engine/aero kit manufacturer in St. Petersburg. But the win doesn’t come without a cost to the “mayor” of fictional Hinchtown.
“We were talking about this at dinner two nights ago with Ric (Peterson, team co-owner),” Hinchcliffe said. “He said, ‘I want one of your helmets but it has to be a race-winning one,’ so I feel like I just lost a helmet.”