A solitary point was all that the streets of Trois-Rivieres gifted James Hinchcliffe after an early race incident saw the title contender classified 20th after failing to finish his first race of the Atlantic Championship season.
The Canadian's championship hopes took a dent in the process as his American title rivals Jonathan Bomarito and Jonathan Summerton finished 1-2 at the Quebec street circuit and now lie first and second respectively in the drivers' championship with three rounds remaining. Hinchcliffe dropped a spot to third, eight points behind second-placed Summerton, marking the first time since the second round that the Forsythe Pettit Racing driver hasn't occupied first or second in the championship chase.
Hinchcliffe's weekend got off to a solid start as he steered the #3 INDECK/TireRack.com Swift Mazda-Cosworth to third on the time charts in Friday's qualifying session. With lap times significantly faster the following day, the fight for pole remained equally tight with title-leader Bomarito locking up his second-straight pole position but Hinchliffe down in seventh.
Looking to gain ground at the start of the 44-lap street sprint, a good start saw Hinchcliffe briefly climb a spot to sixth only to lose it again by the end of the opening lap. As the field settled he then had a clear view of an early incident which involved Carl Skerlong and Markus Niemela which allowed him to gain a place before handling problems of his own would come into play – the back end of his car now loose around the tight temporary street course.
A slide coming onto the start-finish straight at the end of lap six allowed fellow Canadian Kevin Lacroix a brief look at Hinchcliffe for position as they gunned down to the first turn. While Hinchcliffe held his line through the corner Lacroix then attempted a lunge into turn two which resulted in contact and instant retirement for both drivers. Jonathan Bomarito became the first Atlantic winner at Trois-Rivieres since the series last raced there in 2003 with Summerton second and Holland's Junior Strous placing third.
“It's really unfortunate what happened,” Hinchcliffe said. “I thought it was a very optimistic move by Lacroix and frustrating as he was clearly quicker than me, he should have seen I was struggling with the rear and therefore he must have known he'd have been able to get by cleanly probably through the next two turns. I just thought it was an impatient thing to do and it ended up costing us both which is obviously pretty annoying.
“It was a bummer of a weekend but we really didn't help ourselves. We put ourselves in danger of having something like this happen by qualifying as badly as we did. As a team we simply need to improve when we get to the next race to make sure we can avoid incidents like this and really put up a strong fight over the final three rounds.”