James Hinchcliffe's first podium in more than a year couldn't have come at a better time for some of his fellow Canadians.
The Canadian driver carried the hopes of fire-ravaged Northern Alberta in his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda during Saturday's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis after pledging to donate all his prize money to the devastated communities affected by the massive blaze in and around Fort McMurray.
“It was a good day to have a good day, with what was happening up there. It was tough to watch and with Ric Peterson, one of my team owners, his business is based kind of up in that part of the country. And (sponsor) Petro-Canada has a lot of people on the ground in Fort Mac, and it's terrible what happened to that place,” Hinchcliffe said after taking his first podium since he won at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015.
“It's small, but like I said, it's a good day to have a good day and hopefully the little bit that we are contributing, it's obviously going to a good cause and hopefully it can help out.”
The third-place finish on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course likely felt like a win to many Albertans, who have been hoping for some good news after the ongoing wildfires forced about 80,000 people out of their homes earlier this month. More than 14,000 families in 12 communities have been displaced, with many escaping to shelters to the south in Edmonton and Calgary.
The Canadian offered his support after finding it “heartbreaking to see so many people who have lost their homes.”
Peterson's company, Oculus Transport, operates in Northern Alberta. After seeing their driver on the podium, both the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and Hinchcliffe's sponsor Arrow Electronics pledged to match their driver's prize money donation.
Any money donated to the Canadian Red Cross will also be matched by the Canadian government. That means Hinchcliffe's pledge will now grow to six times its original value. Those wishing to contribute can donate to the Canadian Red Cross through the Alberta Fires Appeal by clicking here.
Even with the support of Alberta, Hinchcliffe couldn't stop the freight train that has been Simon Pagenaud. The No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet driver started on pole and led a race-high 57 of 82 laps on his way to a third consecutive victory.
While racing drivers will tell you that the only lap that matters is the last one, in Pagenaud's case, a few laps near the end made his win on the final one possible.
After Pagenaud stayed out a couple more laps than his rivals to try to gain an advantage before his final pit stop, he reeled off a couple of stunners to make up time on Penske teammate Helio Castroneves and leapfrog the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
The clever strategy, combined with precise execution by a supremely talented driver, worked perfectly. Pagenaud's times before and after his top on Lap 63 of 82 sliced about 3.6 seconds out of Castroneves' advantage and sealed the victory. When Pagenaud emerged from the pit lane for the final time, his advantage over Castroneves was, you guessed it, 3.6 seconds.
“The biggest key of the race for us was the last pit sequence where we had more fuel in the car, so I knew I could have two or three laps where I could really push it and those two, three laps were pretty big,” Pagenaud said.
“Credit to the team again, just like they have been doing all year long. It's not just me. They did an incredible job in the pit lane at getting me out there. Strategy was magic again by (race strategist) Kyle Moyer and the car was heroic.”