Canadian James Hinchcliffe finished sixth on Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada’s James Hinchcliffe places sixth in hometown Indy Toronto race

TORONTO — James Hinchcliffe gained more ground than any other driver at the Honda Indy Toronto, but not enough to give him his first victory at his hometown race.

Starting from the No. 14 spot, the Arrow Schmidt Peterson driver from nearby Oakville, Ont., finished sixth on Sunday, snapping a string of three straight top-five results on the downtown Toronto track.

“If we had started higher up we probably could have kept that top-five streak alive,” said Hinchcliffe. “But the effort the guys put forward with really no help with yellow (flags) … we just had to push our way to the front and capitalize on guys’ mistakes.

“All in all, not the end result you want but the effort that I put forth was impressive.”

The race featured only two caution laps — on the first and last of the 85-lap circuit — which hampered Hinchcliffe’s strategy on a hot day along Toronto’s waterfront.

His black and gold No. 5 Honda cruised into eighth place midway through the race and grabbed seventh after a mistake from 2014 Toronto winner Sebastien Bourdais on the 66th lap. Hinchcliffe moved into sixth one lap later after Takuma Sato’s car caught on fire.

That’s where he stayed the rest of the way.

“For a track that’s sort of notorious for having a lot of instances, I’m impressed with the field,” Hinchcliffe said. “One or two maybe would have helped us close the gap and maybe get another spot or two but race control made an active effort to keep it green as much as possible and the drivers are just doing a better job.”

Hinchcliffe, who’s never won in Toronto, was fourth here last year.

He has six top-10 finishes on the 2.89-kilometre, 11-turn street course that winds around Exhibition Place, including third in 2016 and 2017.

The 32-year-old was among the middle of the pack during all three practice sessions Friday and Saturday, finishing 13th, 11th and ninth, respectively.

Hinchcliffe, who wore a suit adorned with fan signatures during the race, said he wasn’t distracted by all the off-track duties that come with competing in your home town.

“Honestly I’ve had enough experience doing this race to know what’s too much and I’ve got a great team of people around me that kinda help manage my calendar and tell me when to say no to stuff, because I’m really bad at that,” he said. “Am I kind of relieved that we survived and got through it and are moving on to next one? Yeah, certainly. But at the same time it’s always such a privilege to come home.

“The support is incredible. People wanting to talk to you, that’s a good problem to have. It’s always fun coming back and I think we manage it pretty well.”

Hinchcliffe has six career IndyCar Series victories, but has had trouble reaching the top of the podium in over a calendar year. His last victory came at the Iowa 300 on July 7, 2018.

Iowa is the next stop on the Series calendar, but some changes to the race — including switching the start time from afternoon to dusk — may make it more difficult to defend his title.

“Of course the race we were pretty killer at they had to go and change,” Hinchcliffe said with a laugh.

“I don’t think we can expect to just roll off the truck and dominate or anything but I think we can be strong,” he added. “(We) just need to have a really clean weekend and keep chipping away at the points.”

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