NASCAR

Sato still smiling after losing race on last turn

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SAO PAULO (AP)

Takuma Sato decided to celebrate another good performance instead of lament losing a race he had all but wrapped up until the final turn Sunday in the Sao Paulo 300.

Sato was on his way to his second consecutive IndyCar victory when he was unable to hold off James Hinchcliffe in the final laps on the streets of Sao Paulo, relinquishing the lead just a few hundred yards from the finish line at the Anhembi track.

But Sato saw more positives then negatives after the race in Brazil, saying that the result showed how ''competitive'' his A.J. Foyt team is after the first four races this season.

''It's a great feeling. Obviously, the team stuck together,'' he said. ''Even in the first two races, we had a couple of issues, didn't quite have the results we wished, but we finished every single race as high as possible. That shows a really perfect race at Long Beach. Today was nearly perfect, too.''

Sato became the first Japanese driver to win in the series two weeks ago at Long Beach, and was poised for his second with another great run on Sunday before Hinchcliffe maneuvered from third to first in the final three laps.

''I think second is the highest place we could've imagined,'' Sato said. ''The win would be great, but otherwise I really fought hard on the track today and I'm really proud of the whole team. The guys did a great job.''

Sato, on older tires, twice blocked the Canadian from making the pass, but on the last lap he came in too hard into the final hairpin and left the inside lane open for Hinchcliffe's victory.

''Hinch did a very good job today,'' he said. ''We didn't make any mistake at all really. We felt it was a hard, competitive fight. I lost, he won, that's it. But given the circumstances today, (I'm) very happy for the team, very valuable points.''

He added: ''We fought really hard up until very last lap. It's tough, but it was good fun and it shows the tremendous competitive in this series.''

Sato, who was third in Sao Paulo last year, leaves Brazil with the championship lead heading into the Indianapolis 500 later this month.

''(I'm) really happy with the performance,'' he said. ''I think (there's) consistency now, (we are) getting really good rhythm. So hopefully now (we can) carry really good momentum.''

He has a 13-point lead over Marco Andretti, who was third on Sunday. Helio Castroneves, the points leader coming into the weekend, now is 20 points behind Sato.

''We have to keep an eye on the Japanese now,'' Castroneves said. ''He is a threat for the championship now.''

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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