The opening double-header round of the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Series, saw Canada's James Hinchcliffe defy a lack of pre-season track time to grace the podium courtesy of a third place finish in Sunday's race on the streets of St Petersburg.
Combined with a solid sixth place finish from Saturday's first start, the 22-year old Toronto rookie now sits third overall in the standings, with 63 points, heading to the next event on the famed streets of Long Beach in two weeks' time.
Hinchcliffe was immediately amongst the frontrunners from a packed 27-strong Indy Lights field as the new season finally kicked off and, with qualifying split into two randomly-chosen groups due to the sheer number of entrants set the third and fourth fastest lap times in his two group outings. Although that ultimately translated into a fifth place start for Saturday's 40-lap race, and seventh for Sunday's outing, he put his head down and drove sensibly controlled races to make the most others' problems.
Saturday's race saw 'Hinch' combat a super slick track, as the Indy Lights race took place after an American Le Mans Series event, with the slippery conditions adding to a front-end problem, discovered after the race by the Canadian's Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew. Despite the challenging conditions, however, Hinchcliffe steered his way to sixth in the #7 HinchTown.com
Sunday's 72-mile sprint saw him behind the wheel of an improved car, but the tight confines of street racing didn't make things any easier. However, successfully managing his tyre wear and biding his time, he was eventually presented with opportunities as others ran into trouble. Quickly, Hinchcliffe rose through the order to take third - and his maiden Indy Lights podium - behind double race-winner Junior Strous and second-placed Saavedra.
“We might not have had the quickest car today, but we successfully steered clear of everyone else's incidents,” Crash.net
columnist 'Hinch' remarked, “The whole team, not least my engineer and mechanics, put in a huge amount of work between races to improve the car, so the podium was a just reward for all their efforts.
"We were fast at the end there so hopefully, we'll show up at Long Beach with a quick car straight off the back of the trailer. To the high standards set by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and myself, we had a below average weekend - but, to come away third in the points.... we'll take it and move on!”