James Hinchcliffe was pleased to have the speed to pass pole-sitter Will Power for the lead early in Sunday's IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
He was far less impressed about how he lost that lead.
Hinchcliffe, the popular Canadian who won in St. Petersburg in 2013 and gained newfound fame by finishing second last year on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, led 21 laps until a full-course caution flag came out on Lap 26. Contact between the cars of Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan put debris down on the track. But not enough, in Hinchcliffe's view, to call for a yellow flag.
"There wasn't a car in the wall somewhere; there was a small piece of debris really far off line," Hinchcliffe said. "In the past race control has said that, especially when we're in the middle of a pit cycle (where some cars have stopped and others have not) if there's any way to (not throw a caution) we'll try and do that. I'm a little bit annoyed at IndyCar for what I think is a bogus call.
"I'll certainly ask why they thought that merited a yellow. … If we now know that a butterfly on the racetrack is going to cause a yellow, we'll dive into the pits as soon as we see it."
The problem for Hinchcliffe, driving a Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was that several cars had already pitted under a green flag. So he and several others, including eventual third-place finisher Scott Dixon, were forced to slow under caution, and when they made pit stops they came back out behind those cars which had pitted earlier.
"The strategy didn't really play out in our favor because of the way the cautions fell … and to be honest we were losing the balance (of the car) as the race went on," Hinchcliffe said.
Power loses power
Will Power led the first five laps, all under caution, but wound up 19th after his engine failed in the late laps.
The Team Penske driver had to serve a penalty early after running over an air gun during his first pit stop. He had to drive back through the pits, sending him toward the rear of the field. The two-time St. Petersburg winner worked back up to third at one point before the mechanical issue.
"I'm not sure what it was, but it lost power," team owner Roger Penske said. "Too bad. We flat-spotted a tire, that's why he had to come in early. He had to save fuel, he was so far off, maybe that's what hurt the engine."
Colton Herta, 16, earned his first Indy Lights victory, leading all 45 laps in his Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing entry. The team is co-owned by Michael Andretti and Belleair resident George Steinbrenner IV. Andretti has a partnership with Colton's father, former IndyCar racer Bryan Herta, in IndyCar.
Colton Herta, a rookie, turns 17 on March 30. He said he passed his street driving test on the first try when he turned 16, then added: "You can't say the same about my dad, actually."
Herta became the youngest race winner in Indy Lights history and the first born in the 2000s. On Saturday, USF2000 driver Robert Megennis, who turned 17 on March 5, became the first driver born in the 2000s to win in any IndyCar feeder series level.
Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed into the tires when his Andretti Autosport car had a rear brake failure in Turn 10 in the IndyCar morning warmup. He was unhurt and finished fourth in the race. … Patrick Long won the Pirelli World Challenge GT race. … In Pro Mazda, the weekend's final race, Anthony Martin won to complete a weekend sweep.
Numbers of the day
14 Years since Sebastien Bourdais had led a lap at St. Petersburg. He sat on the pole for the first major open-wheel race here, the 2003 Champ Car event, and led 30 laps. On Sunday the St. Petersburg resident led 69.
36 Career victories (IndyCar and Champ Car combined) for Bourdais. That broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth all time; Bobby's brother, Al Unser (39), is next up.