BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — After a challenging start to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports brought home a double top-10 finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst and carries that momentum into the coming weekend’s race, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
James Hinchcliffe finished sixth Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park and Marcus Ericsson was right behind in seventh place after 90 laps around the challenging 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course. It marked the first time that Arrow SPM had two drivers finish in the top 10 since last July’s Honda Indy Toronto, when Robert Wickens took third and Hinchcliffe fourth.
Ericsson was relieved to notch his first top-10 finish in NTT IndyCar Series competition after a pair of disappointing results to start the season. The Swede was running well at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg before a technical glitch dropped him out. A drive-through penalty at the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas for an unsafe pit release took him out of contention late.
“The first two rounds were very frustrating,” said Ericsson. “I felt like I executed the races perfectly both in St. Pete and in COTA. To go away from both of those races without pretty much anything, nothing as a result, was very, very tough mentally. That’s why it’s very rewarding to get a result with us (at Barber).
“I think we built up to the result and again we showed how strong we are in the races. I think we are definitely one of the strongest on Sundays, so now our big challenge is to qualify the thing in the top eight. Because if we can start doing that on a consistent basis, we can really challenge for podiums and wins on Sundays.”
Ericsson, in the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, started 20th of 24 cars and was the first to make a scheduled pit stop on Lap 6. Following the first round of stops, the former Formula One driver was in 11th place and quickly climbed into the top 10. He remained in seventh place for all but one of the final 49 laps.
“This is a track everyone told me you cannot overtake (on),” said Ericsson. “Starting from 20th, not many people were thinking it was possible to go far up, but we kept pushing. We had a great strategy, the guys called it perfectly and I made some good moves out there when I needed to move up through the field, overtook some of them with really nice passes. We did what we needed to get a good result. We can build on that to the next one.”
Hinchcliffe started the weekend strong in practice and qualified fourth in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, so expectations were high for the Canadian. He didn’t disappoint, leading two laps and never running lower than seventh. However, the race’s lone full-course caution on Lap 58 didn’t play into his favor.
“The race was going pretty smooth until that yellow, honestly,” Hinchcliffe said. “That sort of ruined our day. We had a really good long-run car. We were taking care of the tires really well, that third stint we were all over the back of (Scott) Dixon. He was really struggling, (I was) looking to try to pass him in the cycle, but that yellow just hosed us. We didn’t do a great job getting the tire temps up and lost a couple of spots there on the restart (to Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden), and that was sort of the end of it.
“It was a strong car all weekend, but if we’re this disappointed with a sixth place, it means that we’re doing something right as a team and we’ve just got to keep qualifying well and executing what we can control on Sundays – and eventually our day will come.”
Hinchcliffe is looking forward to the upcoming race on the famous street circuit in Long Beach, California. Returning as a past race winner (in 2017) makes it that much sweeter.
“Long Beach is a special place for everyone,” Hinchcliffe said. “Being able to go back there with a little bit of momentum, pretty strong start to the season for us, you know we’re looking forward to it. So, fingers crossed, we can go get another one.”
The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach airs live at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.