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 driver took the checkered flag to win a wild and unpredictable series debut on the 2.74-mile road course outside New Orleans.
“When we first decided to stay out, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper?'” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda. “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 (on his crew) called it awesome.”
Hinchcliffe won for the fourth time in his Indy car career – and first since June 2013 at Iowa Speedway -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.
Most of the front-runners came to the pits on Lap 33 during a full-course caution. Running ninth at the time, Hinchcliffe remained on track and 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 the field at bay. It is the fifth win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team Hinchcliffe joined this season.
Castroneves logged his second straight top-five finish to open the 2015 campaign, giving the Brazilian 120 for his Indy car career, breaking a five-way tie for sixth on the all-time list.
“The Hitachi car was solid, but sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good and today we were lucky,” Castroneves said. “Second place feels like a win right now.”
James Jakes, Hinchcliffe’s teammate, came home third in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to earn his second career podium finish. Simona de Silvestro, driving the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, placed fourth to equal the second-best finish of her Indy car career.
“The car was pretty good and the tricky conditions kind of played in our way and the team made a great call to come in at one point,” said de Silvestro. “It’s really cool, especially to be back here in IndyCar and especially with Andretti. It’s my second race with the team and finishing fourth, it’s great.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to open the season March 29, finished fifth today in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to retain the championship points lead with 84. He holds a 10-point advantage over Castroneves.
The race began with a wet track, but the first 15 laps were run caution-free as the entire field started on 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 forced six full-course cautions for a total of 26 laps over the final 32 circuits.
Miles Impressed with NOLA Efforts
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, gave the NOLA staff “very high marks” for getting the facility race ready and continually addressing the changing conditions this weekend.
“The track itself has done a great job,” Miles said. “It’s a big deal to move from a club course to an Indy car track. I think they’ve done just about everything we could expect of them.”
NOLA Motorsports Park opened in 2012 as a local auto enthusiast facility with big dreams. The Verizon IndyCar Series event for 2015 was announced in August 2014. Extensive upgrades have occurred since, including the addition of grandstands and numerous track safety upgrades. Miles said it has shown worthy of hosting a series event, even if the weather this weekend didn’t fully cooperate.
“The facility itself has never really been used like this and, unfortunately because of the rain, is probably not being tested for how it would work when you have a full house,” he said. “I think it looks great; I think everybody is pleased.”
Miles said discussion is already under way about the 2016 race date. This weekend’s race conflicted with the popular French Quarter Festival in downtown New Orleans and, while inroads have been made in community awareness, a more fortuitous weekend could be a win-win situation. Miles firmly believes the NOLA race can become a “destination” event for the Verizon IndyCar Series, comparable with the Long Beach and Sonoma races in California and St. Petersburg, Fla.
“The perfect scenario locally and therefore for us would be if we can find a weekend when the weather’s good and we don’t have another major local event to compete with,” Miles added.
Thomas Morstead, punter for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, was grand marshal for the race and issued the command to start engines. … Todd Phillips, crewman for Dale Coyne Racing who was injured in a pit lane incident when Francesco Dracone spun in the pits, received stitches in his lower right leg at the track medical center and was released. … Santiago Urrutia (Team Pelfrey) led all 11 laps in wet conditions to win the first Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires race, which had been postponed from the day before. Urrutia finished 3.0390 seconds ahead of runner-up Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport). The second Pro Mazda race was canceled due to poor track conditions. … Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport) took the lead when Aaron Telitz (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) went off course and drove on to victory in the second USF2000 presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend. Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) was in hot pursuit of Franzoni but couldn’t overtake on the wet circuit, finishing 1.0153 seconds behind in second.
POST-RACE DRIVER QUOTES:
Marco Andretti (No. 27 Merchant First/Snapple Honda): “I was hoping for more green laps, not only for myself to try and move forward, but for the show. It was a bit of a disappointment. Sitting under yellow is boring and we really wanted to get some good racing in. We’ll move on to Long Beach.”
Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Team Mistic E-Cigs-KVSH Chevrolet): “It was a weird race obviously. We held our own throughout the race getting as high as fourth. The Mistic-Circle K car ran good in the wet and ran good as the track transitioned. Then the race just became a succession of cautions with restarts after restarts during which I made a couple of spots and lost a couple of spots. Because of all the cautions there were different strategies and as they played out we ended up having to pit when everybody behind us had already done so. The guys in back cycled to the front and we cycled to the back with the leaders. Then with all the cautions, the guys in back were able to stretch their fuel and on the last restart I was on the inside and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) came up and made it three wide with Simon (Pagenaud). Ryan pushed Simon into the grass. He then came back on track with no control and could not avoid collecting me, ending our race. It was never going to be a good day, but now with the damage to the car it is a shame because this was going to be my Indy 500 car.”
Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “First of all, I have to give congratulations to the entire track, and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series to keep pushing to have another round here. And congrats to the fans. I want to thank all the fans for the first race here at NOLA and we have to keep going. The track conditions were really difficult because there were areas where there was a stream of water on the race track and it was very difficult for us to keep the cars on there. Now talking about the Hitachi boys, man, you guys are awesome. We had a little bit of a misunderstanding because the guy I hit, I thought he was two laps down. I knew he wasn’t battling for the lead and unfortunately, when I got the nose chopped, the information was a little bit iffy. But at the end of the day, Roger, Jonathan and everybody never gave up. I never gave up and at the end of the day to be taking second place – it’s a very happy day.”
Stefano Coletti (No. 4 Variable Bore Rams – KVRT Chevrolet): “The race started on wets and the No. 4 Variable Bore Rams – KVRT car was quick. I managed to go from 20th to 10th before I pitted around lap 12 for slicks. When I started pushing, the yellow flag came out a few laps later and on the restart I tried to pass on the straight but found a big puddle. This caused me to spin and hit the barrier hard and I had to return to the pits to change the rear wing. The crew did a great job because the studs on the gearbox that mount the new rear wing had broken off, so they had to fix that first and in the end managed to get me going, but three laps down. The rest of the race was pretty much under yellow and there was nothing I could really do to catch up. It wasn’t the result that we expected and I feel bad for my sponsor this weekend, Variable Bore Rams, Inc. We had good speed all weekend and the team gave me a great car so we will see what happens at Long Beach next weekend.”
Scott Dixon (No. 9 Brita Chevrolet): “It’s a shame we didn’t get much green-flag racing in today here at NOLA. I wish we could have gotten more racing in with the dry conditions after the start. Our Brita car was really fast in the last dry practice session of the weekend so we were optimistic for the race. It’s just one of those things where you spend a lot of time under the yellow flag.”
Francesco Dracone (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “Obviously that was a scary situation in the pit late. I’m glad to hear that Todd (Philips), my chief mechanic, will be alright with just a cut on his leg. This just shows how dangerous it is for every member of the team in racing. It is an unfortunate way to end the race but Todd’s health is the most important thing right now.”
Luca Filippi (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet): “I think we did everything right. Both Josef (Newgarden) and I were probably going to have a top seven or eight finish. Obviously, a few people got very lucky on the strategy in the middle of race. But another Top 10 finish is okay, especially on a strange day like this. Today’s finish was not quite what we were looking for, but it’s a solid way to continue our championship.
Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “On a restart, someone spun in front of me and I had nowhere to go and we hit and I ended up in the tire barrier. It was very unfortunate and there was nothing we could do about it. It’s not been a good weekend on any front. We need to analyze what went wrong and put it behind us. The good thing about this series is there’s always another race next weekend so we can put it behind us.”
James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda, race winner): “When we first decided to stay out, I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper. 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.”
Carlos Huertas (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “I screwed up. That area of the track was really bad. I don’t think I did anything crazy but I think the angle of the car when I put a little bit of power was too much to the right and I lost the car. I think that mistake probably cost us a podium looking at how the race played out. I don’t know if I could have won the race but I was there with a chance to win it today. My mistake is the only reason we finished where we did.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We had a great race going, had some good clean racing there with (Graham) Rahal, (Will) Power – even (Simon) Pagenaud, we went side by side through Turn 10 there. It was some good racing. Then we got down to Turn 3… I’m pedaling the car all the way out, it’s loose, there’s just no more room for (Pagenaud) to be out there. (Sebastien) Bourdais, is on my left, I don’t know where to go at that point. I’m using my regular racing line – (Pagenaud) stuck his nose out there (and was off the racing line)… And just cleans us all out. I’m happy all three of us are uninjured. (Pagenaud) said I ran him out of room, but there just was no room in the first place. I don’t know what to say to that – it’s certainly a racing incident but there wasn’t a whole lot of room there to begin with. Disappointing way to end the day, we were looking for a strong finish with the DHL Honda.”
James Jakes (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We had the pace this weekend, it was just being patient. Yesterday, we had the speed to get in the (Firestone) Fast Six, but qualifying was canceled. It was frustrating, but it paid off today. We needed that after St. Pete. We haven’t had the pace from the start of the year. It’s not all our fault, but hopefully this is the first of many.”
Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing started the race really strong and I was running up in the top five quite a bit there at the beginning. We were one of the first cars to change to slicks and I just came into a corner a little too fast with cold tires and ended up in the grass. We lost some spots there, but it allowed the team to use my position to our benefit and we were able to get a lot of fuel on the yellows and run as hard as we could when it went green. I think I was running all the way back in 19th at one point. So it just shows how much the team and my engineers and strategists came together to get the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet a sixth-place finish.”
Sage Karam (No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet): “It wasn’t the day we had hoped for in the Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records car. We had spins, I made mistakes and the race just never really got going enough to get in a good rhythm. I hate it for the team and my guys. I learned a lot today out there and will go back and talk everything over with the team to get a game plan together on how we can improve on our performance.”
Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “Obviously, it was a tough day for everyone, but I’m glad we were able to get some laps in for the fans. It’s a great race track that NOLA Motorsports Park has put a lot of work into and we’re just happy we were able to get the race in. It’s just disappointing because all four of the Chip Ganassi Racing cars were quick in wet and dry conditions, we just never got the chance to completely show it. With qualifying being cancelled the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet had to start toward the back, so it was going to be an uphill battle the entire race. We have a quick turnaround this week heading into my home state of California for the Long Beach race, but I know Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing will be ready to go on Sunday.”
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, series points leader): “We definitely had a fast Verizon Chevy today and it’s good to come away from NOLA with a top five. I think it’s one of those deals where we kind of caught a break yesterday starting on pole with the weather but our luck went the other way today. The cool thing is two races in a row to start the season Team Penske has had the fastest cars and I am very excited about that. I’m looking forward to getting back to Long Beach next week. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling there.”
Carlos Munoz (No. 26 AndrettiTV/Cinsay Honda): “It was a really unusual race with all the cautions. At the end of the day, it was only strategy and to be lucky with the yellow flags – we didn’t get it right. The whole race I was in the top 10… It’s a shame of a weekend to not qualify; we started 14th because of points. Now we have to focus on the next race.”
Josef Newgarden (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “The thing I am happy about is that we got a Top 10 on a difficult day. It could have gone a lot better for us. We struggled a little bit on the wet, but when it was going dry we were very strong as a group and we didn’t get to capitalize on that. Too many cautions, too many yellows, and it just didn’t play in our favor. That’s racing. Sometimes it falls your way and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just happy we managed a Top 10. That’s good points but obviously leaves us wanting more. We will regroup, go to Long Beach, and keep chasing it.”
Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet): “Really too bad about the finish because the Penske Truck Rental Chevy was really fast. It handled great in traffic and we looked like we were heading toward a good result. I’m not sure what Hunter-Reay was thinking there. He just drove us off the track and I’m just glad everyone is OK. I want to thank the fans for staying with us this weekend despite the weather. I think the No. 22 Chevy team will be able to come back strong at Long Beach.”
Graham Rahal (No. 15 D-A Lubricant Company Honda): “In the wet, the car was really good and I was able to move my way up quickly and get a good spot to contend the rest of the day. I had a couple of good restarts, picked off a couple more spots but unfortunately, in the end, the guys up front got lucky with the yellows and strategy. We played it right but unfortunately it just didn’t stay green. There was nothing we could do about that. I thought we had a car that was pretty capable today, particularly in the wet. We just didn’t get to see it through though the way the race played out.”
Simona de Silvestro (No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda): “It was huge to get the race like this. Honestly we struggled the whole weekend. We weren’t where we wanted to be. The race, you know, the car was pretty good and the tricky conditions kind of played in our way and the team made a great call to come in at one point. It’s really cool. You know, especially to be back here in IndyCar and especially with Andretti. It’s my second race with the team and finishing fourth. It’s great. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Takuma Sato (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “A difficult weekend continues. It was very tricky conditions because we started the race quite wet but the rain had stopped. The line was getting drier every lap. We struggled with the grip and balance so we decided to come in relatively early for slicks. We picked up good pace and gained some positions. Then on a restart Charlie Kimball & someone else tangled and came back to me and we had contact. It broke the sidepod and the wire loom so I couldn’t shift. Tough day.”