James Hinchcliffe took the first win of his IndyCar career in the season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series race in St. Petersburg.
The Canadian was a front-runner throughout the afternoon and proved especially adept on restarts, claiming second from Will Power early in the race, retaking second from Power again on a subsequent restart, and then taking the lead from Helio Castroneves on a late restart when the Penske driver went wide at the first corner.
Hinchcliffe remained under constant pressure from Castroneves in the final laps, but held on to win by just over one second.
"First of thanks to everyone. Man, that was a tough race," declared Hinchcliffe. "Last year we qualified fourth, finished fourth. Qualified fourth again and I thought that was kind of our cursed number there for a bit and then the big thing that people were saying early on in the season is 'What is it going to take to win?' And the big thing was minimizing mistakes...
"We had a good car. Not sure if we had the fastest car over a lap but I'll tell you what, we nailed the pit stops. The guys were so good. The GoDaddy car was really good on those black tires. That last restart, he [Castroneves] makes a mistake. I get by, but I'm thinking, 'He has 30 laps to get this back." And we were saving a bit of fuel, trying to save the tires."
Castroneves admitted he couldn't match the Andretti Autosport driver in the slow stuff.
"I knew Hinch was really good. Especially in the Mickey Mouse section, as I call it. He was very strong there," related the Brazilian. "As long as I was in front of him, it was going to be fine. Maybe I didn't warm up my tires enough. Just a small mistake. I guess the old dogs still make mistakes! Still have a lot to learn. Great effort by the Hitachi guys, incredible car. And good job Hinch. Congrats!"
Completing the podium was Hinchcliffe's Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, who took the position from Simona de Silvestro with two laps remaining. It was an encouraging result for Andretti, who spent the winter specifically working to address his weakness on street circuits.
De Silvestro, meanwhile, was a constant presence in the top five until fading tires began to get the better of her in the closing laps. Initially it seemed that her main threat was going to come from her new KV teammate when Tony Kanaan worked his way up to her rear wing, but before the Brazilian could make a move he himself was passed by Andretti.
That left de Silvestro exposed, and while she was able to keep the Andretti Autosport car at bay for a couple of laps with the help of her last couple of hits of push-to-pass, she went wide into the last corner with two laps remaining and gave Andretti an easy route through.
To make matters worse she also lost places to Kanaan and Scott Dixon, who triumphed in a three-way drag race with the KV car and EJ Viso to claim fifth.
It was a great result for the Kiwi, who had started from 20th, and he felt that it could have been even better had he not lost a wastegate late in the race, resulting in a loss of boost on the restart.
"We went a little bit off sequence there at the end but what killed us was the left waste gate on the turbo broke, so I had no boost," said Dixon. "I was just getting killed on straight-line speed and they just all got past me on the final restarts."
Tristan Vautier made an impression on his IndyCar debut, running in the top six until an exhaust problem forced him to retire. An identical glitch also accounted for his teammate Simon Pagenaud, and if the Schmidt Peterson team was frustrated, they at least had plenty of company.
Race one of Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship defense ended with a DNF when he was forced to park with a mechanical problem, while 2012 rival Power's afternoon did not go much better. The Australian had led the opening stint before losing places to Castroneves and Hinchcliffe on restarts, but his real undoing came when JR Hildebrand became distracted by his cockpit controls and ran into the Penske car during a caution, launching himself into the air. That forced Power into the pits to have a right-rear puncture repaired, and his race ended a short time later when he hit the barriers.
"He came over and apologized after the race. He said he was just looking down at his steering wheel and he just ran over the top of me," Power said of Hinchcliffe. "It's just a mistake but that happens in racing. Then I made another mistake there at the end and it cost us four more places. Tough day but we just have to move forward and look ahead to Barber."
Other high-profile retirees included Dario Franchitti, who made a mistake on cold tires and hit the Turn 3 wall on lap 18.
Results - 110 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy
2. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 1.0982s
3. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 16.3664s
4. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 19.6083s
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 20.7627s
6. Simona de Silvestro KV Dallara-Chevy + 20.7890s
7. EJ Viso Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 20.8229s
8. Takuma Sato Foyt Dallara-Honda + 21.1878s
9. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 21.6832s
10. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 22.5569s
11. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 22.7354s
12. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 24.5429s
13. Graham Rahal Rahal Dallara-Honda + 37.5324s
14. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy + 45.2054s
15. James Jakes Rahal Dallara-Honda + 45.7793s
16. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy + 3 laps
17. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy + 6 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy 79 laps
JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy 78 laps
Sebastian Saavedra Dragon Dallara-Chevy 72 laps
Tristan Vautier Schmidt Dallara-Honda 69 laps
Ana Beatriz Coyne Dallara-Honda 55 laps
Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda 50 laps
Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda 26 laps
Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda 18 laps