James Hinchcliffe won an extraordinary IndyCar race in Sao Paulo by taking the lead from Takuma Sato on the final corner of the last lap.
The Canadian’s attempt to pass Sato a lap earlier had been frustrated when the Japanese driver defended with a move that barely straddled the line between fair racing and blocking, and Hinchcliffe initially received a similar reception on his repeat attempt.
But he responded by jinking to the other side of Sato’s car and getting a better run out of the corner, taking the lead for the first time in the race with the finish line in sight.
The Andretti driver took the flag 0.3464 seconds ahead of his rival for the closest finish in the circuit’s history, and the 13th-closest in an IndyCar road/street race.
“There’s no cooler way to win a race,” he said. “In the last corner of the last lap. Takuma was making that car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well – almost too well a couple times. He just outbraked himself just a little bit, and I was able to do a high-low [pass] and got the win.”
The victory makes Hinchcliffe the first repeat winner of the 2013 season, while Sato’s disappointment at being beaten at the line could be tempered by the fact that he now leads the championship.
At the race’s halfway point, Sato had been fighting Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead, but his Foyt team made what would prove to be a critical call to make an extra stop rather than trying to stay out and save fuel.
This, coupled with the amount of life he was able to extract from his final set of scuffed reds, were central to Sato being in contention at the end.
Just a few laps before the finish, Sato’s main concern had been not Hinchcliffe but Josef Newgarden, who was all over the back of the Long Beach winner and with an extra push-to-pass on tap.
The American, who started from last on the grid, made a couple of solid overtaking attempts – one of which, again, was met with some especially exuberant defending from Sato – but he never managed to make one stick. Over the final laps he also began to struggle with his rear tyres, and fell back behind Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia.
Both of those two had earlier led the race, with the sight of Servia running up front proving particularly poignant just days after his Panther DRR team announced that it does not have the backing to race after the Indianapolis 500.
Meanwhile Andretti, who took third late on the final lap, goes to Indy sitting second in the standings after four road and street races – a remarkable result in light of his struggles last year.
There were any other number of highlights to be picked out from a race packed start-to-finish with drama (and seven caution periods), although Tony Kanaan’s heroics deserve a mention.
The veteran came into the weekend struggling with a tendon injury to his right hand from his Long Beach crash that prevented him from fully gripping the steering wheel. But he showed superb speed during the middle phase of the race and led on two separate occasions before running out of fuel.
It was a disastrous weekend for Penske. Will Power came into the race undefeated in Sao Paulo and started from 22nd, but was running 11th and picking rivals off at the rate of a position per lap when a fire broke out on his car, putting him out of the race.
Life was not much easier for Helio Castroneves, who also started from the rear of the field and spent most of the race having to recover from a series of minor incidents, not all of which were of his making.
Series champion Hunter-Reay led early on, but fell out of contention when he was forced to pit put of sequence to have a puncture repaired.
Results - 95 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy 2h09m34.7383s 2. Takuma Sato Foyt Dallara-Honda + 0.3463s 3. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 1.1376s 4. Oriol Servia Panther DRR Dallara-Chevy + 1.1745s 5. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda + 1.6516s 6. EJ Viso Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 2.8119s 7. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 3.5961s 8. Simona de Silvestro KV Dallara-Chevy + 4.7772s 9. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 7.6331s 10. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 9.0265s 11. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 9.5135s 12. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 10.4393s 13. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 11.1234s 14. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 13.6406s 15. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 13.7377s 16. Tristan Vautier Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 14.3517s 17. James Jakes Rahal Dallara-Honda + 19.8585s 18. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 29.4261s 19. Sebastian Saavedra Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 54.7223s 20. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 2 laps 21. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 3 laps 22. Graham Rahal Rahal Dallara-Honda + 4 laps 23. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy + 4 laps Retirements: Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy 17 laps Ana Beatriz Coyne Dallara-Honda 6 laps