ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — James Hinchcliffe, the Canadian driver poised to become IndyCar’s next star, grabbed his first career victory Sunday.
Fittingly it came at St. Petersburg, the adopted hometown of the late Dan Wheldon, the driver who signed to drive the GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport shortly before his death in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas.
The open seat then went to Hinchcliffe, who drove the bright green No. 27 to victory in front of Wheldon’s wife and two children.
“This is his hometown; this is his car,” said Hinchcliffe, who will be added now to the Wheldon monument unveiled Thursday at Turn 10 on the course. “Knowing my face will be on that memorial, that’s really special.”
Hinchcliffe passed Helio Castroneves on the final restart to take the lead and held on to win by 1.09 seconds over the defending race winner. He became the first Canadian to win since Paul Tracy’s 2007 victory at Cleveland in the CART Series, and Hinchcliffe waved the Canadian flag as he climbed from his car.
The win showed Andretti didn’t lose a step over the offseason, when the organization turned it up a notch even after Ryan Hunter-Reay’s championship.
It paid off Sunday when Hinchcliffe got the first IndyCar win for sponsor GoDaddy, who was with Danica Patrick in the series before her 2012 move to NASCAR, and with Marco Andretti’s third-place finish. It was Andretti’s career-best finish on the downtown street course, and he used a late push to pass Simona de Silvestro with two laps to go to get the podium finish.
FORMULA ONE: In Sepang, Malaysia, three-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel held off Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in a scintillating battle to win Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Vettel, who earlier in the race complained to the team about Webber’s slow pace, battled the Australian for much of the day, with the cars almost touching as the German grabbed the lead on the 46th lap for his 27th victory. The surprising run of Mercedes continued, with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton coming in third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg.
It was a disastrous day for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who crashed out of the race on the second lap after damaging his front wing when he bumped Vettel a lap earlier.