St. Petersburg, Fla – The biggest storyline of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opening race on the streets of St. Pete has to be the Lap 25 caution. Debris was all over the track from contact between Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan which brought out the second caution of the race.
That was the turning point.
Several cars had already pitted which really hurt the leaders at that point of the race. James Hinchcliffe, had a 3+ second lead over second place Scott Dixon and was starting to get close to his pit window. His crew was telling him on Lap 20 to pit within the next 6-8 laps.
Then, Lap 25 happened.
That caution bunched up the field and drivers like Hinchcliffe, Dixon and others still had to pit. Instead of pitting and coming out up front if a caution never came out, they came out 10th and worse.
Hinchcliffe, would restart the race on Lap 30 in 10th with Dixon 11th. Takuma Sato and Josef Newgarden were right behind.
Basically, that yellow inverted the field.
“Honestly a pretty disappointing result,” a frustrated Hinchcliffe said after the race. “We started on the inside of Row 2, got a good start and slipped into second…Did well on the restart and led pretty much the entire first stint. We had a bit of a tire advantage – we started on the sticker Firestone reds, other guys were on used tires – but from there everything kind of unraveled.
“The yellow caught us off guard; a bunch of the guys behind us had already pitted, so that kind of put us behind the eight ball. As the race went on, the track wasn’t coming to us as it normally does, so unfortunately it all kind of went wrong for us after the start. A lot to be happy for, a lot of positives, though, like the pace of the Arrow Electronics Honda. There’s not a whole lot you can do about the way the yellow flags fall – that was a tough break. I think we would have had a solid top five if it wasn’t for that, and that’s something we can build off of heading into Long Beach.”
Hinchcliffe, was the most affected as he could only muster a ninth place finish. That’s unfortunate for him, because his car was far better than that finish indicates.
Scott Dixon who was running second and was relegated to 10th at the time rebounded to third. He too wasn’t happy about that caution.
“It started off a little bit rough,” Dixon said. “We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.”
But, that’s how the luck works at times in IndyCar racing. That’s why sometimes pitting early in a sequence can help because if a yellow does indeed come out, then those that have pitted already are in good shape.
That’s why Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and other benefited the most because they were able to pit early and come out ahead in the end.
For those like Hinchcliffe and Dixon it worked in reverse.