The Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete was almost good enough to make up for an overly long off season, almost.
The longest race in the history of the event, the additional 10 laps seemingly paid off by taking fuel mileage off the table and forcing drivers to battle it out on the track for the win. I really feel the race showed us a little bit of everything, established teams struggling, a long languishing drivers showing a new form and a well deserved first win.
I’ve been watching James Hinchcliffe’s career since his rookie season in the now defunct Champ Car Atlantics formula. While everyone has liked Hinch it always seemed like he was overshadowed by another driver. In the Atlantics he was in the shadow of his teammate Rafa Matos, then in Indy Lights he seemed to come behind names like J.R. Hildebrand and J.K. Vernay. Hinchcliffe was always the guy with the “Great personality,” who was logging laps and respectable results but never set the world on fire. Look at him now. Matos and Vernay are out of high level racing and Hildebrand is known for his last-lap choke in the 2011 Indy 500.
I’m so happy to see a deserving guy like Hinch get a win, and to do so in an undisputed fashion. He had to pass, and pull away from one of the best drivers in Indycar.
But the great thing about St. Pete was the storylines went so deep into the field. We saw two beleaguered drivers re-assert themselves over the course of the race. Everyone knew Simona de Silvestro had talent, but other than a few flashes hadn’t accomplished that much. She was fast in testing, consistent in the race and over the last ten laps with her tires going away she put on a gutty performance and finished sixth; more accurately finished sixth in a three-way photo finish for fourth place. Scott Dixon, de Silvestro and E.J. Viso were all within a car-length as they reached the checkered flag.
My favorite line in the entire broadcast came from Marco Andretti, who got his first podium on a road course in I can’t remember how long. When explaining the final laps of the race he said, “This is a selfish sport, and I needed the podium.”
I love that, it’s true, and it’s great to hear Marco Andretti say that. I’ve certainly questioned his ability and desire in this space several times, but it seems like he really has been working on race craft and he seems to actually want it. The wanting part of it is clear because it hasn’t always been apparent that he’s hungry. So that’s good to see.
So yeah, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete delivered an exciting event without any major controversies or distraction. A premium was placed on driver ability, passing was possible but not laughably easy. I would have liked to seen the season start a couple of weeks, if not a month or more, earlier, but St. Pete delivered.