columnist James Hinchcliffe wracked up a second successive podium finish in the Firestone Indy Lights Series in Sunday's race around the streets of Long Beach but, despite his rookie status in the series, reckoned that he could have done better than third place.
With the narrow confines making qualifying for the weekend's single race all the more important, 'Hinch' overcame a disappointing practice day behind the wheel of the #7 Sam Schmidt/HinchTown.com
entry to fire himself into pole contention on Saturday. With qualifying again split into two groups to accommodate the 25-strong field, the Canadian set the pace throughout his timed session until American Jonathan Bomarito pipped his lap time as the chequered fell.
However, the American was deemed to have been too quick with the track under caution, and the subsequent penalty awarded to Bomarito promoted Hinchcliffe back into P1 and a first Indy Lights front row slot.
Targeting polewinner JR Hildebrand from the start of the 45-lap race, the #7 held second place in the early laps, but a moment for the leader prompted Hinchcliffe to lift off, fearing a potential accident. A swift save by Hildebrand meant any contact, either with the wall or from those behind, was avoided, but Hinch's flinch allowed Richard Philippe to dart past and steal second spot.
With mistakes needed to promote overtaking on the narrow racing line, the top three then remained static to the chequered flag, leaving Hinchcliffe wondering what might have been had his reflexes not been quite so sharp.
“I have to be honest and say it's a little disappointing not to have finished as runner-up as I believe that, after JR, we probably had the second fastest car on the grid,” he admitted post-race, “That said, I'm happy to have scored a second straight podium and, from where we were on Friday, this is actually a pretty decent result."
With the streets of Long Beach graciously allowing 'Hinch' to emulate the third place he claimed from his first ever start on the layout back in 2006, back-to-back top three results leave him a solid fourth in the driver standings, now just nine points adrift of series leader Junior Strous.
"Again, the whole crew worked hard between Friday and Saturday and everything clicked, as was evidenced in qualifying," he reflected, "We're sitting well in the points, it is extremely close at the top already, so we're just hoping to carry our momentum into the first oval race of the season in Kansas.”