by Lynne Huntting

Firestone Indy Lights polesitter James Hinchcliffe led from flag to flag at Long Beach to claim his first series victory in 18 starts.

The Team Moore Racing driver led all 45 laps of the event, bettering the 20 he headed in 2009 at Kentucky, the only other Lights event where he hd run up front. The victory also eased athe blow of seeing another pole position, in St Petersburg earlier this year, disappear when he was assaulted into retirement at the first turn.

"It feels like it has been a long time coming," 'Hinch' admitted, "We had a couple of close calls last season, and starting from the pole in St Pete didn't work out for us, but, all weekend long, the Team Moore Racing car was great, and I owe a huge thank you to all of the boys.

"Today's win was also a relief. There was a lot of pressure last year to win a race and we didn't get that done, so that weighed heavily on my mind all through the off-season.

"To get a first win out of the way and another pole is huge. Basically, it was a perfect weekend for us, and to do it here in Long Beach, at one of the staple events on the IndyCar Series calendar, is phenomenal. It was a huge relief and hopefully the first of many."

"We had a really good rhythm and pace, and then I kept seeing those yellows come out, but we had a great car on the restarts. Today was about not making mistakes, and it was great to have the pole.

The Canadian came home ahead of Charlie Kimball and points leader JK Vernay, who had started in the reverse order with Vernay alongside Hinchcliffe on the front row. However, once Kimball passed the young French driver, they stayed in that position for the duration, with Kimball equalling the career-best result he took last weekend at Barber Motorsport Park.

"I'm really pleased with my second podium finish in a row," the AFS/Andretti Autosport pilot admitted, "With Long Beach being like a home race for me, I was lucky to have friends and family here cheering for me, and the #26 car ran well all weekend.

"[Sebastian] Saavedra hit me before the start so I was worried about my right rear pretty much all race, but I had to focus on getting past 'Hinch'.

"I tried everything I could, threw the kitchen sink at him, but just couldn't catch him."

Although he saw his victory streak halted at two. Vernay remains the series points leader heading to round four on the hallowed overl at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"This morning the car was perfect in warm-up, and I was feeling confident, but then, during the race, I didn't really understand what was wrong with the car or what was happening," the Frenchman reported, "It was difficult for me to stay behind Charlie and Hinchcliffe, but I am happy to be in the front of the championship and, as a rookie, I feel great about my season to this point."

Saavedra survived his brush with Kimball to come home in fourth place, grateful to add to his points haul, while Kimball's AFS/Andretti team-mate, Martin Plowman, rounded out the top five.

The 45-lap race was punctuated by four cautions for eight laps, mostly for spins or crashes down the field. No-one was hurt, but Hinchcliffe admitted that he could have done without the pace car appearing and re-appearing.

"The restarts were certainly not what I wanted," he confessed, "I didn't think I had it won until I saw the checkered flag. Yellow breeds yellow and, by the fourth one, it was getting to me - I was frustrated at the end."

One of those came when arguably the star of the race, Britain's James Winslow, found himself without any steering, courtesy of bolts that had worked loose and left the steering wheel in his lap.

The Sam Schmidt Motorsport driver had raced from 14th on the grid - after losing a gearbox in qualifying - to sixth, and was catching Plowman when he suffered a 100mph shunt.