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Strategy gamble pays off for James Hinchcliffe

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(via Sportsnet) – James Hinchcliffe is finally getting used to what it feels like being on the right side of luck.

Hinchcliffe certainly knows how the other side feels — simply put, it sucks — but the Oakville, Ont., native capitalized on a strategy gamble Sunday once again at the Honda Indy Toronto.

The 30-year-old made his first pit stop ahead of the leaders and caught a huge break as a yellow flag soon fell on lap 23 of 85 when Tony Kanaan went into the wall. The leaders pitted and shuffled behind as Hinchcliffe, who started sixth, vaulted up to third and held it steady from there. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who also benefited from pitting early, finished 1-2 across the line.

Hinchcliffe was also on the right side of a yellow a year ago for third and matched his personal-best finish at his hometown track for his second consecutive podium finish on the streets of Toronto.

“We had lots of luck when we came here before, it was just all bad luck and it’s nice the last two years it’s kind of changed,” said Hinchcliffe, who drives the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “I would be remised to not mention that both of these podiums really came our way as the result of strategy going our way and yellow flags falling our way. As much as I feel for the guys that got caught out by that one, I’ve been on the losing end of that one enough. We definitely had a string of bad luck so far this season, so to have something to kind of go our way was great.

“We obviously were struggling on the reds [tires], there’s no secret about that, but once we got those black Firestones on, the Arrow car really came to life. On that last stint we were even kind of hunting down Josef and Alex a little bit. I was almost hoping the race was 10 laps longer — that would’ve made it a bit interesting at the end — but all in all just really happy for the whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew and once again happy to give everybody in Toronto somebody to cheer for because they came out in full force today.”

Hinchcliffe admitted he didn’t have the fastest car to start the week, but believed he could have challenged for a higher spot on the podium had the race ran longer.

“I think getting the Fast Six in qualifying was through pure commitment on that one-lap run in Q2 more than us having great stints in the car. When the track rubbered in and the blacks were on the car really did come to life,” Hinchcliffe said. “Hunting down Josef and Alex there at the end proved we had pace and it took us a bit of luck to get up there, but once we were there we hung on. I think we need to work on our car when the conditions are a little slicker, but the more Firestone rubber we got down the more it suited our setup. … We’ll go back to the drawing board and hopefully come back a bit stronger next year in all conditions.”

As Hinchcliffe’s legend grows at his hometown track, so too does his fanbase. Hinchtown’s population has been expanding at a rapid pace and the self-proclaimed mayor embraces being the lone Canadian in the Verizon IndyCar Series fans can look up to.

“More and more every year the support that I feel from this city grows every single year and it’s just incredible. It’s the most humbling thing,” he said. “We did our parade lap in the trucks before the race and I don’t think I’ve seen the grandstands that full here certainly since I’ve been behind the wheel. The energy in the crowd was huge. Even Friday I remember sitting in the car in pit lane and looking up at the stands and going, ‘Man, this is a Friday. This is really impressive.’ It’s just so awesome to feel the energy back in this event. It’s obviously one that has meant a lot to me for a long time.

“We went through some tough years there, but certainly with Honda Canada’s support and everybody at [track promoter] Savoree Green have been doing a great job and building momentum and getting this Toronto race every year and this was the best we’ve seen in a while by far. Hopefully that’s a trend we can keep going and hopefully we eventually get a couple steps higher on the podium for the people of Toronto.”

Nashville, Tenn., native Newgarden also won in Toronto in 2015 and is developing a bit of a friendly rivalry with Hinchcliffe.

“I love beating Hinch in Canada,” Newgarden said with a smile. “I love Hinch. He is a great representative, but this is so good. He was joking actually, we got on TV and he was like, ‘I’m going to go promote Nashville so that we go there,’ because I’m from Nashville and he’s like, ‘We’re going back and I’m going to beat you in Nashville now.’ It’s fun being up here. I love Canada and I love the support.”

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