In a Nutshell: James Hinchcliffe had the winning lottery number in a race so disjointed that the only real determining factor of the race’s final finishing order was a twisted combination of luck and strategy.
Key Moment: The second half of the race was essentially nothing more than a series of caution periods. On a lap 33 caution period, Hinchcliffe’s team ordered him to stay out when most of the leaders pitted, thus employing a one-stop strategy. The strategy worked, as cautions flew in succession the rest of the race, allowing Hinchcliffe to hold on for an easy victory.
- Where should we even start? The race was the definition of a mess, a true farce to say the least in the inaugural INDYCAR event at NOLA Motorsports Park. Rain interfered with the weekend from start to finish, but it was especially detrimental on Sunday. The rain was so heavy over the weekend that the track was unable to ever dry properly. Compounding this aspect was a poorly designed irrigated track surface that held moisture in for extraordinarily long periods of time. This design flaw caused “weepers” to form around the track, essentially turning the circuit into a wet mine-field unsafe for racing. Yet, INDYCAR officials went ahead with the race anyway,
- The first half of the race, despite the inclement weather, was surprisingly clean and dominated by the Team Penske cars. Penske’s Chevrolet powered DW12 machines ran 1-4 for the duration of the race’s opening act. The second half fracas obviously undid Penske’s stranglehold on the race, but while it lasted, it was a true testament of just how strong ‘Ol Roger’s cars are right now.
- The true story of the race was the time-limit imposed by INDYCAR on the race. Knowing that the race was going to be affected by weather, INDYCAR decided to implement a time-limit in hopes that they could end the race before darkness fell on the track. As it would turn out, the time limit was necessary, as the parade of cautions that flew from lap 16 onward to the final lap (lap 47) of the race prevented the race from reaching it’s scheduled distance. The time expired on lap 47 as the field cruised by under yellow.
- Speaking of those yellow-flag periods, would you believe it if it told you that the last 30 laps of the event never had any more than two green-flag laps in succession at any given time? Indeed, the track’s lack of grip resulted in drivers spinning almost immediately after restarts when the field was bunched up. It was a vicious cycle: a wreck would happen while the field was bunched on a restart, it would lead to another yellow, which would lead to another wreck, all up until the timer expired on the race.
- Juan Pablo Montoya realistically had the car to beat in the race. Before the spate of cautions flew, Montoya was very much in control of the event with teammate Will Power close in toe… much like the finish of the race two weeks ago in St. Petersburg. Clearly, Montoya (and Power for that matter) has come to play in 2015. Even after the end-of-race nonsense, he wound up fifth.
- It’s still early, but Andretti Autosport appears to be way off the pace. Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to be the only Andretti car with discernible speed over the weekend, but even that did not end well. Hunter-Reay was a major factor in the puzzling final caution of the day. Hunter-Reay nudged Simon Pagenaud off course, which sent Pagenaud on a wild ride that led him to go back on track and viciously collect both Hunter-Reay and an innocent Sebastien Bourdais.
Notable Driver: Hinchcliffe. It seems cheap to really dub anyone with this honor after such a farcical race, but a win is a win after all. Hinchcliffe did what he had to do over the offseason to stay relevant in the INDYCAR world after losing his ride with top-flight outfit Andretti Autosport. Hinchcliffe never performed up to expectations with Andretti and needed a fresh start. He found that fresh start in Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. Hinchcliffe delivered the underdog team with a shock victory on a weekend where the team was not expected to be a factor. At the end of the day, it sometimes is better to be lucky than good.
James Hinchcliffe: “When we first decided to stay out, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper?”
Will Power: “Boring race. Congrats @Hinchtown nonetheless !” – Via Twitter
— Helio Castroneves (@h3lio) April 13, 2015
What’s Next: Next week the circuit visits the streets of Long Beach for what is arguably the biggest road/street event of the season. Catch all the action live on NBCSN at 4 p.m. ET on April 19th.