Hinchcliffe Wins Thrilling Sao Paulo 300

Photo: IMS Photo

After three straight races filled with mostly good behavior, the gloves–and better judgment–came off on the streets of Sao Paulo on Sunday.

When the endless string of crashes and cautions came to an end after 75 laps, Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe played a masterful game of waiting to the final five laps to use all his Firestone Reds had to give and and an extra few uses of Push-to-Pass (P2P) to come away with his second win of the season and the third for the Andretti team in 2013.

With A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato locked in a furious battle for the lead with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden, the two wore down their tires, giving the Canadian a chance to pick Newgarden off for second on Lap 72 of the 75-lap race, and from there, he set his sights on Sato.

The Long Beach winner used his final P2P on Lap 74 and a healthy block on the back straight to keep Hinchcliffe from getting by, but the Go Daddy driver had one P2P he’d held in reserve to use on the final lap.

Marco Andretti demoted Newgarden to third as his teammate set Sato up for another passing attempt on the 7/8th-mile run to the Turn 11 hairpin. Sato blocked to the inside, forcing Hinchcliffe to go around the outside, and could have held onto the lead, but the Japanese driver locked up and ran slightly long into the hairpin, allowing Hinchcliffe to duck down the inside and win the drag race to the checkered flag.

“There’s no cooler way to win a race — in the last corner of the last lap,” said Hinchcliffe. “Takuma was making that race car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well, almost too well a couple times. He just outbroke himself just a little bit and I was able to do a high-low (pass) and got the win.”

Sato did his best to hide his obvious disappointment after climbing from the cockpit.

“The guys did a good job,” he said. “Today we started from 12th so it was a really solid day for us. It was a great, great race, and we’re carrying good momentum into Indianapolis.”

Andretti was quite pleased with the results of the late-race strategy that gave his family-owned team a 1-3 finish.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was dicey at some points. Really it was just about conserving the push-to-passes for when it counts. At the end I was kind of using it when people weren’t expecting me to use it so I could kind of snooker them.

“Looking from Practice 1, I’m quite pleased with where we ended up today. Congratulations to the Go Daddy crew. The RC Cola car is looking good in points now.”

Behind Hinchcliffe, Panther DRR’s Oriol Servia passed Newgarden for fourth at the line, backing up his run to sixth at Long Beach.

“It was a great car today,” he said. “The last two races I had a great car in qualifying. The way the wrecks in qualifying have gone, we have started at the back, but we have gone through the field twice today and finished fourth. I really thought we had a podium; really we had a car to win. It’s just I don’t know what is going to happen in the future.

“We just announced that the team is out of money after Indy so we are hoping we can put it together. We work so hard to have the car and the team we have. We are contenders. We just need to find a little more money to continue, but I’m very happy today. We are working well we are doing our jobs right and something is going to happen.”

Despite fading to fifth at the end, Newgarden’s run from 25th and last to nearly passing Sato for the lead was nothing short of amazing. The young Tennessean missed qualifying due unapproved engine change and was moved to the back of the grid, yet worked his way forward and hounded Sato over the final 15 laps to score his best result to date.

“I thought we had a really strong race,” he said. “Good solid points, top five is really good going into Indy, especially considering where we started. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do coming out of here is to score solid points and get good momentum going into the 500, and I think we have that.

“A little bit of a disappointment, I think we had a better car than fifth, but you’ve got to take what you can sometimes. I’m pleased for all the hard work that gets put in for everyone here and that’s been put in for the last year, and it’s good to get representative results.”

Outside the top 5, second-place qualifier E.J. Viso fluctuated throughout the day, but recovered to finish sixth, Dario Franchitti had a strong day but fell from third to seventh, and Simon Pagenaud, starting 23rd, made the long haul to ninth, which included being stopped on the track and losing time at Turn 8 during one of Helio Castroneves’ many incidents.

Sebastien Bourdais led at one point thanks to being off strategy, and after being part of the Turn 8 melee, plus confusion on which pit box to use and the need to put a damaged nose back on hiscar, settled for 14th.

Polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay looked like he had the speed to win, but an odd choice by his Andretti Autosport team to pit him off sequence left the 2012 IndyCar Series champion in fuel conservation mode and unable to attack during his final stint.

“Extremely disappointing today,” he said. “Absolutely had the car to win. Guys gave me a great, great car…the pit stops were awesome. Definitely needed to capitalize on this opportunity, but we got a flat tire about halfway through the race which pretty much sidelined us. We pit super early on the last stop, had to save fuel the remainder of the race. I was lifting halfway down the straightaway so… we were wounded and stayed that way.”

KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan, sporting the colors of race sponsor Itaipava, thrilled his countryman when he led at two different points in the race, but his dream run came to an end when he ran out of fuel on Lap 51–when he was a half-lap from pitting–and fell back to finish 21st after rolling to a halt on the front straight and requiring a tow to top his car up with ethanol.

Will Power was passing cars with abandon from his P22 starting position, moving up to 11th, but a problem and fire with his shifting system on Lap 18 brought his day to a smoky end.

“Obviously burned something with the gear shift because it stopped shifting, so I was looking for the automatic shift or the manual shift, but yeah it was a fire,” he said. “We don’t know what happened, I had no real warning, unfortunately. I had such a good car man, I was passing a car a lap.”

The seven caution periods kept the race from building momentum, but the thrilling final laps and Hinchcliffe’s heady move to pounce when the leaders had used up their tires was nothing short ofbrilliant.

Add to that a second podium finish for Sato, another stirring drive by Andretti, a much needed positive result for the cash-strapped Panther DRR team and a breakout day for Sarah Fisher’s team, and the 2013 season–with opening practice for the Indy 500 just days away–continues to be loaded with great storylines.

SAO PAULO – Results Sunday of the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.536 mile Sao Paulo Street Circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
2. (12) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
3. (10) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
4. (13) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
5. (25) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
6. (2) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
7. (3) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
8. (8) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
9. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
10. (17) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
11. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
12. (15) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
13. (18) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
14. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
15. (11) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
16. (21) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
17. (24) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
18. (6) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
19. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
20. (9) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 73, Running
21. (4) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 72, Running
22. (19) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 71, Running
23. (14) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 71, Running
24. (22) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 17, Mechanical
25. (16) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 6, Mechanical

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 88.070
Time of Race: 02:09:34.7383
Margin of victory: 0.3463 of a second
Cautions: 7 for 19 laps
Lead changes: 9 among 7 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Hunter-Reay 1 – 9
Kanaan 10 – 20
Bourdais 21 – 33
Sato 34 – 37
Hunter-Reay 38 – 44
Kanaan 45
Andretti 46 – 52
Hildebrand 53 – 56
Sato 57 – 74
Hinchcliffe 75

Point Standings: Sato 136, Andretti 123, Castroneves 116, Hinchcliffe 112, Dixon 101, Hunter-Reay 94, Wilson 91, Servia 89, de Silvestro 86, Kimball 80.