LONG BEACH, Calif. – If James Hinchcliffe’s life was a movie, his victory in Sunday’s 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would be the happy ending.
It was May 18, 2015 when Hinchcliffe was nearly killed in a crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was during practice for the 99th Indianapolis 500 when his Honda slammed into the turn three wall and a suspension rod penetrated his lower body. By the time the Holmatro Safety Crew arrived, Hinchcliffe was close to bleeding to death.
Thanks to the hard work of the Safety Crew and the doctors at IU Health Methodist Hospital that performed emergency surgery, Hinchcliffe’s life was saved.
The next act came during qualifications for the 100th Indianapolis 500 when he returned to the scene of his devastating injury and never flinched. He fearlessly drove to the pole for the milestone race and finished seventh in the milestone race.
When the 2016 season ended, Hinchcliffe wanted to close the chapter of his crash by competing in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. He was an instant hit and danced his way to the finals before losing to champion Laurie Hernandez, a Gold Medal winning Olympic Gymnast.
After he was fast in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12, Hinchcliffe was caught on the wrong side of a yellow flag and his ninth-place finish was not a true indication of how fast he was in the race.
So, as Sunday’s 43rd running of the greatest street race in the Western Hemisphere began about 30 miles away from Hollywood, Hinchcliffe was ready to give his audience the final act.
He drove a brilliant race by using a two pit stop strategy that allowed him to save fuel while running fast enough to stay ahead of the competition and the drivers that had used a three pit stop strategy. That tactic allowed him to lead two times for 25 laps, including the final 22. He defeated three-time Long Beach Grand Prix winner Sebastien Bourdais by 1.4940 seconds to capture his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
It was also his first win since he was nearly killed less than two years ago.
While that alone made this a happy ending, to the Honda driver from Toronto, he was more excited about winning the second-biggest race on the schedule – one that is just below the Indianapolis 500.
“Well, you put your face in the ground when you win, which is amazing,” Hinchcliffe said of the track’s Walk of Fame. “Who wouldn’t want that?
“It’s the history of this place – 43 years running, comes second only to the Indy 500. Who has raced here, won here, it’s just a very special place. There’s no three-day event that has this kind of fan interaction and fan attendance. This race is just so well-represented by the fans. That’s who we’re here for. We love coming here and putting on a good show for them because they show up in the 10s of thousands every single year to race.”
Another huge crowd watched Sunday’s race and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach officials announced a three-day total attendance of more than 185,000 fans.
Hinchcliffe’s fifth career victory was his first since a rain-shortened race at NOLA Motorsports Park on April 12, 2015.
“Winning like this means so much more than wins like NOLA,” Hinchcliffe admitted. “At the same time, you take wins like NOLA because I’ve lost way more races because of situations like that than I’ve won.
“When I watched the race in NOLA afterwards, I thought, Man, celebrating a little bit too much for a guy that pitted on lap 13 and won the race somehow.
“But you got to take ’em. This series is so competitive. Like I said, we got a lot of wins ripped away from us for a lot less weird circumstances, you know, so…
“As much as winning is nice, everything it like this definitely feels a lot better.”