James Hinchcliffe’s wait is over.
The Verizon IndyCar Series star and affable 29-year-old Canadian returned home after a one-year hiatus from competing on his home track to score an emphatic third-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
Following an accident during practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 that sidelined him for the rest of the 2015 season, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” spent last year’s trip to Toronto painfully watching rookie Conor Daly drive his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to a 12th-place result.
The 1.786-mile street circuit at Exhibition Place proved challenging for Hinchcliffe, who had never finished higher than eighth in six previous attempts.
However, a caution on Lap 58 of 85 allowed Hinchcliffe, who qualified a track-best sixth and ran at the back end of the top 10 for much of the race, to gamble on fuel strategy. Another yellow flag with four laps to go set up a frantic one-lap fight to the finish, which saw the Oakville, Ontario, product hold off the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet of Tony Kanaan for the final step on the podium.
Hinchcliffe acknowledged that the eventful afternoon was helped by the “lucky” late caution.
“It was an up-and-down day, to be honest,” said Hinchcliffe. “We had a good first stint. The car was good on (Firestone alternate) reds, as we should have expected based on qualifying. Throwing some elbows with (Sebastien) Bourdais at the start, (Juan Pablo) Montoya, Mikhail (Aleshin), Josef (Newgarden), a couple guys there. Kind of good, fun racing.
“When we stopped and switched over to (Firestone primary) blacks, we lost the balance a fair bit. We were really struggling for pace. I was just trying to hold on to the thing, to be honest. We weren't entirely sure how it was going to play out.”
Hinchcliffe pitted for the final time on Lap 47 and was running 10th when the fateful caution came out on Lap 58 for Newgarden’s meeting with the wall in Turn 5. Had there not been a yellow then, the Canadian likely would have been staring at a sixth-place finish at best.
“For once in my career here in Toronto, we caught a lucky break,” he said. “It's not just that I haven't had great luck here. I've had insanely bad luck here. Today we were on the other side of that. It's part of Indy car racing.
“I feel bad for guys like Scott (Dixon) that got caught out by that yellow (and went from race leader to finishing eighth). It happens. We've been on the other side of it, for sure. Will (Power, who won the race) has been on the other side of it at this race. It happens. It's the nature of the beast. For the number of times it goes against us, we'll take the time it goes to us.
“Wasn't sure we were going to be able to keep TK (Kanaan) behind us, but he ran a million laps on the tires. What we had to give up on the straights, he was losing in the corners. We were able to make it stick on the last restart, get a good result.”
An elated Hinchcliffe admitted it was good to give the hometown fans a finish they could be proud of, but is still eyeing that elusive Toronto win.
“No doubt this will be a highlight in the career reel, memory reel,” said Hinchcliffe. “Hopefully we can better it in the future. It would be so great to win here. I've just always wanted to give the Toronto fans a good result because they've been so supportive day in and day out from the start of my Indy car career.
“Good, bad or indifferent, they're just such a phenomenal group of people – really knowledgeable, really passionate fans. The support, like I said, has been incredible. Finally good to give them a good result to cheer for.”
The weekend also had Hinchcliffe promoting a great cause. The Canadian teamed with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Honda Canada to allow fans who donated to the charity the chance to sign the firesuit he wore in the race.
“We do this every year,” Hinchcliffe explained. “We'll put a suit on display in the Honda World tent (at the track). If you make a donation, you get to sign the suit I wear on race day. Obviously, this one is a bit special now (having) been up on the podium … smells like champagne and sweat.
“If you look at it, there's not many open spaces left. It shows how generous the people of Toronto are. I think we raised a bunch of money for a really good cause.”
With the result in Toronto, Hinchcliffe moved into eighth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with five races to be completed – including the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Aug. 27 that he leads following its suspension due to rain on June 12. Hinchcliffe’s best championship finish in five previous seasons is eighth in 2012 and ’13.