A chaotic, crash-strewn IndyCar race in the streets of Sao Paulo on Sunday got its act together in the closing stages to produce a superb three-way battle for the lead over the last three laps.
Long Beach winner Takuma Sato led from the final restart with 17 laps to go chased hard by an impressive Josef Newgarden with James Hinchcliffe a little further back in third after overtaking Simon Pagenaud. For a while it looked like a Sato-Newgarden duel but Hinchcliffe caught them with four laps to go and used his push-to-pass on the next lap to get around Newgarden for second.
Right away, Hinchcliffe attacked Sato only to be squeezed hard, not once, but twice on successive laps. The Canadian kept at it however, trying again going down the long back straight on the final lap, then attacking Sato around the outside under braking for the last turn. Sato got in a little deep, slithered wide and Hinchcliffe dived to the inside, seizing the lead as he powered off the corner on the way to the chequered flag – a superb victory.
“There’s no cooler way to win a race than on the last corner on the last lap,” Hinchcliffe beamed. “Takuma was making his race car really wide and we both had one push-to-pass coming into that last corner. He was defending the inside well, almost too well a couple of times, but we were able to take him in there deep and dive to the inside and get the win. It was awesome.”
Hinchcliffe started fifth in Sao Paulo but got stuck near the back of the field during the early run of crashes and full-course yellows. “I made a mistake on the first pitstop that put us back, but it was one of those things where the guys were awesome in the pits. They made the right calls and got us back into it.
“I had to work for it. On the last restart I lost a position to Pagenaud and lost a position to Newgarden and fell back. But we were a little bit quicker than them and as soon as I got by Pagenaud I caught Sato and Newgarden because they were battling hard. I never would have caught them otherwise.”
Hinchcliffe won the season-opener in St Petersburg but failed to finish the last two races. He becomes this year’s first repeat IndyCar winner and jumps from 10th to fourth in points.
Meanwhile, Sato has taken IndyCar’s points lead as the teams now turn their attention to the Indianapolis 500, their marquee event. Sato started twelfth in Brazil and moved up well, helped by the many yellows and good pit strategy. In the middle of the race he took the lead from pole man Ryan Hunter-Reay before stopping for fuel and tyres a few laps later. Twenty laps later Sato was in front for the final restart, stretching his soft compound ‘red’ Firestone tyres to the limit.
“We chose the strategy to come into the pits when we were leading, but there were 35 laps left,” Sato remarked. “It was a good call to try to make the podium but it was difficult as the tyres went off quite a lot compared to Hinch and Newgarden. We also had a slight issue with the brakes and I was really hanging on. But obviously Hinch did a great job. Congratulations to him for his second win of the season.
“We didn’t think we had a chance today to go for the win but what a strong bunch the AJ Foyt Racing Team is. I’m really happy. They did a tremendous job again.”
Sato’s aggresive blocks of Hinchcliffe and Newgarden were examined by race control but no penalties were levied against the Japanese ace. Was Sato worried that he might be penalised?
“You could say that,” he grinned. “But I think we’re all in trust with each other, especially our group. We can see in the mirrors and see what we’re doing. For sure, Hinch has great confidence in me and I do in him. We had such fun.”
Marco Andretti drove an aggressive but controlled race to finish a fine third with Oriol Servia coming from 13th on the grid to take fourth place for Dreyer & Reinbold. The team has announced it will not continue after the Indy 500. Newgarden fell to fifth at the end followed by EJ Viso and Dario Franchitti who qualified third and ran second in the opening laps. The Scot was among the top three or four through most of the race but wound up finishing seventh.
After leading the opening laps pole-winner Hunter-Reay eventually made it home 11th. Hometown hero Tony Kanaan twice passed Hunter-Reay for the lead to rousing cheers from the main grandstands, but Kanaan ran out of fuel on the track and lost three laps.
The eternally unlucky Will Power set the pace through practice but was caught out in the first round of qualifying by a red flag which prevented him from recording a flying lap. Power started 22nd and forged his way into the top 10, but dropped out after 17 laps with a gearbox failure.