LEEDS, Ala – While Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi look to be the overall championship favorites for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, two more drivers are right there waiting to pounce. To me, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has to be the top overall organization heading into the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On Monday, they put both of their drivers inside of the top five in the rain delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as both drivers now head to May in the top eight of the points standings.
James Hinchcliffe brought his No. 5 Honda home third for his fourth straight top 10 finish on the season. He finished fifth in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete, sixth in the next race at Phoenix and now ninth and third respectively the last two weeks at Long Beach and Barber. He heads to Indy fifth in the standings, only 40 points out.
See, Hinch’s podium at the Barber Motorsports Park was his 15th of his INDYCAR career and 28th top five finish too. It was also his fifth straight top seven finish on the 2.3-mile Alabama road course and sixth in his last seven tries.
“I feel bad for the fans as much as anything,” Hinchcliffe said of the race. “We were driving around out there, and it’s like, ‘Right guys its getting wetter, it’s getting wetter….’ ‘Wet enough for rains?’ ‘Nah, not wet enough for rains…’ ‘Wet enough for rains?’ ‘Nah…’ ‘Pit for rains.’ ‘Are you guys sure?’ It was the right call for sure, so big props to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys; solid weekend for us in the end. As I said before, not a great test here, but two cars in the top 10 after qualifying and then two cars in the top five in the race, so pretty proud of these boys and everyone on the Arrow Electronics car. It’s good to get a couple of Hondas up there, maybe not on the top step of the podium, but we took the rest of it.”
Wickens now earned his second top five finish in the last three races. But, if not for some unfortunate luck, he could easily have had two wins and now a fourth place finish to start his INDYCAR career off.
“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint, so once (Scott) Dixon started getting close to me, I was thinking I might have to give this position up,” the rookie driver said of his race at Barber. “Then the rain came, so the fuel mileage kind of happened naturally. The rain saved us a bit, but overall great job by the Lucas Oil guys. I was a little gutted that we came out into a big bunch of traffic, but it made the race fun. It was also a little bit frustrating as we lost a bit of track position there, and I think we could have both been fighting for higher steps on the podium today.”
Wickens, led a race high 69 of the 110 laps at St. Pete and was in command on the final restart with two laps remaining in the season opener. Unfortunately, he and Alexander Rossi made contact in Turn 1 and away Wickens went. He’d finish 18th.
Then, at Phoenix, he stayed out and was leading on the final restart again. Unfortunately, Josef Newgarden had fresher tires and would blow by him for the win. Wickens, led 44 laps and finished runner-up.
On Monday at Barber, he’d bring his No. 6 Honda home fourth as he too heads to Indy with some major momentum. He’s eighth in the standings, 61 points out. Think of where he’d be if he turned those first two races into wins?
This team had a new driver (Wickens), a rookie at that, a brand new car and a completely overhauled engineering department coming into this season. I’d say all those changes have paid off.