After battling each other wheel-to-wheel in one of the most electric finishes in IZOD IndyCar Series history, there was nothing left for James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato to do but smile, laugh, and share an embrace.
Two of the best this series has to offer in terms of on-track talent and off-track humility brought the Brazilian race fans to their feet in the closing stages of Sunday's Sao Paulo Indy 300 at Anhembi Park. Sato, running on a set of tires that were almost 40 laps old, had managed to turn back attempts on his lead from Josef Newgarden and had similarly repelled moves from Hinchcliffe with tactics that sat right between defense and blocking.
But as the former Formula One driver and the Canadian upstart headed for the final corner of the race, Sato briefly over-drove the corner and allowed Hinchcliffe to go inside of him to take the lead and win the event in grand fashion.
Hinchcliffe could've had a beef over Sato's moves to defend his lead on the backstretch. Sato could've been a sore loser after missing out on a chance to collect back-to-back victories.
Instead, they congratulated each other on their hard-fought efforts that caused the packed grandstands to momentarily forget about the crushing twist of fate that befell their countryman, Tony Kanaan, who had contended for the win himself but ran out of fuel midway through the race.
The Brazilians certainly love their heroes, but they know a great race when they see one.
And Hinchcliffe and Sato gave them, and everyone else that watched around the world, one to remember.
"Once I got around Josef [Newgarden], I knew I had more overtakes than Takuma did and thought, 'This might be possible,'" said Hinchcliffe of his daring move. "He was doing such a good job making it wide, making it difficult to pass going into the last corner, I didn't think we had it. Going into the last corner, he overshot it. It wasn't really until I crossed the line that I realized, 'We got it.'"
"The last few laps was great fun from a driver's point of view," Sato said. "It's a real pity that I lost it on the final lap of the race on the final corner. But that shows how we are competitive, how our series is really fun [for those] watching the race. I think the fans really enjoyed it…A 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."
Beyond the exploits of Hinchcliffe and Sato, the race was full of dramatic efforts. Marco Andretti continued his transformation into a really good road/street racer with his second podium of the finish, while Oriol Servia came through with a fourth for Panther DRR, which may be forced to bow out of the championship following the Indianapolis 500 due to funding problems. Then there was Newgarden, who started 25th due to an engine change but still challenged for an upset win before worn tires caused him to drop to fifth.
As for Kanaan, his fuel calamity was the biggest hard-luck moment of the race. He started fourth and moved up to the lead on Lap 10, which earned him a hearty roar from the crowd. Another wave of cheers came when he re-took the point later on at Lap 45, but just six laps later, his No. 11 Itaipava Chevrolet slowed down and came to a stop, bone dry, on the frontstretch. His race was effectively ruined.
The other two Brazilians, Helio Castroneves and Ana Beatriz, had days to forget. Castroneves was involved in numerous incidents and came home 13th to fall out of the championship lead (Sato now leads Andretti by 13 points going into Indy). Beatriz had her day end before it really began, as mechanical trouble sidelined her in the opening laps.
IZOD IndyCar Series – Sao Paulo Indy 300
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
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
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.