If the first three IndyCar races of the season told motorsport fans anything, then the 2013 season looked set to be one of the championship’s best.
But clearly no one had read the script to the drivers who lined up on the grid for Sunday’s Sao Paulo 300. James Hinchcliffe claimed his second victory of the year by passing Takuma Sato at the last corner on the final lap in what will go down as a truly epic race. The last man to achieve that feat was the late Dan Wheldon at the 2011 Indianapolis 500.
The Canadian had attempted to get by the Japanese driver a lap before, only to have his efforts thwarted with some particularly robust – overly so, many felt – defence from the AJ Foyt #14 Honda.
Approaching the last corner on the final lap, Hinchcliffe attempted the same move and was met with the same response. But the Andretti driver jinked to the other side at the last moment, and got better drive as they exited the final corner to cross the finish line and win by just 0.3 seconds.
The win made Hinchcliffe the first repeat winner of the season, and while Sato was no doubt disappointed to be robbed of back-to-back wins – following his popular win at Long Beach – he could take some solace in the fact that he was now leading the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Sato had been in contention for the win from the halfway point when he was engaged in a good dice for first position with polesitter and reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
In what was a race interrupted by seven safety car interventions and dictated by sound strategy and good pit stops – just don’t remind Dario Franchitti! – Sato’s pit crew made the crucial call to bring him in for another pit stop and some fresh tyres, rather than trying to stay out and conserve fuel.
The fresh boots made all the difference, and he emerged in the lead in the final stages and found himself under attack from IndyCar sophomore Josef Newgarden, who had staged his own extraordinary charge from the back of the grid to be in contention for his first win.
Try as he might, Newgarden was unable to get his Sarah Fisher-run entry by Sato, who was again pushing the limit in his defensive driving moves. Ultimately, the battling proved too much for Newgarden’s tyres, and the youngster slipped to fifth place in the final laps as he ‘fell off the cliff’.
Those to benefit from Newgarden’s misfortunes were Marco Andretti – who again finished on the podium with his teammate, just as they had done in St Petersburg – and Oriol Servia, both of whom led the race at various stages.
For Servia, it was particularly poignant – his DRR Panther team had confirmed that the next round at Indianapolis would be the team’s last, unless they could secure some substantial sponsorship funding. Perhaps the Catalan’s performance could prove the difference in getting the team the lifeline it richly deserves.
For Andretti, the result was cause for plenty of celebration. His second podium finish of the season elevates him to third in the Drivers’ Championship standings, and should put a sock in those – and we include ourselves on this list – who had questioned his ability on road and street circuits.
Such was the quality of racing through the field, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge some of the race’s other unsung heroes.
One such driver was Tony Kanaan. That the Brazilian was even on the grid was a miracle in itself, such was the extent of the tendon injury he had suffered a fortnight ago in Long Beach, he could barely grip the steering wheel. But plug on he did, leading the race twice before running out of fuel just a few laps from the end.
But if there are heroes, then there were also some abject failures in the race as well.
Team Penske topped the list with a surprisingly poor weekend. After mistiming their qualifying runs, both Will Power and Helio Castroneves started well down the order.
Power – undefeated at each of the three previous races here – went on an early charge and was scything his way past the field until a fire broke out on his car on the eighteenth lap, ending his race.
Hometown hero Castroneves fared marginally better, but spent much of his race trying to recover from a series of incidents – including a spin at the Turn 1-2 chicane – en route to finishing a disappointing thirteenth.
2013 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Sao Paulo Final Classification (75 laps):
|No.||Driver||Entry / Team||Laps||Result|
|1.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||75||2:09:34.7383|
|2.||Takuma Sato||AJ Foyt Enterprises – Honda||75||+ 0.3463|
|3.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||75||+ 1.1376|
|4.||Oriol Servià||Panther / D&R – Chevrolet||75||+ 1.1745|
|5.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman – Honda||75||+ 1.6516|
|6.||E.J. Viso||Team Venzuela – Chevrolet||75||+ 2.8119|
|7.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||75||+ 3.5961|
|8.||Simona de Silvestro||KV Racing Technology – Chevrolet||75||+ 4.7772|
|9.||Simon Pagenaud||SPH – Honda09||75||+ 7.6331|
|10.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||75||+ 9.0265|
|11.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport – Chevrolet||75||+ 9.5135|
|12.||Alex Tagliani||Barracuda Racing – Honda||75||+ 10.4393|
|13.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske – Chevrolet||75||+ 11.1234|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dragon Racing – Chevrolet||75||+ 13.6406|
|15.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing – Chevrolet||75||+ 13.7337|
|16.||Tristan Vautier||SPH – Honda||75||+ 14.3517|
|17.||James Jakes||Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda||75||+ 19.8585|
|18.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda||75||+ 29.4261|
|19.||Sebastián Saavedra||Dragon Racing – Chevrolet||75||+ 54.7223|
|20.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing – Honda||73||+ 2 laps|
|21.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology – Chevrolet||72||+ 3 laps|
|22.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda||71||+ 4 laps|
|23.||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing – Chevrolet||71||+ 4 laps|
|DNF.||Will Power||Team Penske – Chevrolet||17||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Ana Beatriz||Dale Coyne Racing – Honda||6||Mechanical|