NASCAR Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Recap: Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300

In A Nutshell: With varying pit strategies, and after a number of wrecks, the final 20 laps came down to a battle between Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, and James Hinchcliffe. Sato held strong, with a few questionable moves that seemed like blocks, but he could not gap those behind him and ultimately fell victim to Hinchcliffe’s better car during the final lap. Hinchcliffe earned his second win of the year (and his career) while Sato took second, Marco Andretti third, Oriol Servia fourth, and Newgarden faded to fifth.

Takuma Sato was seeking his second straight IndyCar victory Sunday — but in the end, was forced to settle for second after a thrilling last-lap pass by James Hinchcliffe gave him the trophy down in Brazil.

Key Moment: The final corner. Sato had played out his allotted number of Push-to-Pass options and looked dead to rights for the hard-charging Hinchcliffe. With a blocking maneuver on the previous lap, Sato still held the top spot. But Hinchcliffe had one Push-to-Pass remaining and made it count – closing to Sato’s rear wheels on the last straight and then taking an inside route on the final turn. With Sato sliding just a touch, Hinchcliffe saw all the opening he needed and sped home the final few yards for the win.

Highlight Reel – Seeing Marco Andretti finish third requires a double take. But maybe the offseason driver education he took has actually helped. Though he’s yet to win, he’s off to a fantastic season, having earned top-10 finishes in all four races. Andretti now sits in the pretty position of second in points instead of counting up the DNFs. Doubt that anyone could have guessed his season would get off to such a start…

– On the flipside, there’s Will Power. With his qualifying session ruined by a red flag, Power, a three-time Sao Paolo winner, started near the tail of the field. For a while, his efforts seemed ho-hum, as he hung out in the late teens. And then came his assault on the field, passing nearly a car a lap and making his way to 11th. Just like that, it all went poof – literally. Power parked his car, with flames coming from the engine and his day was over. A 24th-place finish relegated him to 18th in points.

– Just as surprising as Andretti has been, so too has Sato. He leads the points, won his first IndyCar race at Long Beach and nearly held on for his second in Sao Paolo. No one could have possibly seen him opening the season in this manner. Maybe the oddball pairing of Sato and A.J. Foyt isn’t so odd after all.

– Is Ganassi just waiting for the Indy 500 to unload fast cars or is there something wrong? Sure, Dario Franchitti has earned back-to-back top 10s, but he’s hardly been any kind of threat to win. With 2 DNFs to start the season, he’s also a middling 15th in points. Of course, Indy has been his sandbox of late and there’s a good chance it will be again, but right now there’s nothing about his Ganassi ride that seems to bark in an intimidating way. Just to add to the concern – Scott Dixon finished a disappointing 18th and just seemed off the entire race.

– Oriol Servia, in his Panther ride, started 13th. Josef Newgarden, driving for Sarah Fisher Racing, started 25th. Both can be overlooked or considered afterthoughts. With lesser equipment, the expectations on them are tempered. Thus, it was good to see them round out the top 5, respectively, and to see that the smaller organizations really do have a shot.

– Sao Paolo race officials made changes to turns 1 and 2, a bang-bang succession, and hoped to open it up for more passing. The move was welcomed. The weird thing is that a lot of the damage to a number of cars happened in that very spot. Call that irony, or something.

Tip Of The Caps: How about Simona de Silvestro, who took eighth for another impressive 2013 performance. Right behind her was Simon Pagenaud, who came home a solid ninth. Pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay, who looked strong early, would up a disappointing 11th but in all honesty, after a flat tire midway through the event his ending could have been far worse.

Tony Kanaan, despite fighting an injury stood strong in Brazil and led the race twice before suffering from mechanical failure.

Notable Driver: Tony Kanaan. Back in his home country, Kanaan was a fan favorite and obliged by leading the race twice. Throw in the fact he was driving with torn ligaments, in his right hand and he looked to be writing a remarkable story. Too bad that his KV Technology car failed to follow the narrative and gave up. It’s a bittersweet tale for the Brazilian, and one has to wonder how many more times he’ll have the opportunity to race at Sao Paolo.

Quotes and Twitterings:
James Hinchcliffe ‏@Hinchtown: I don’t always finish races, but when I do, l prefer to win.

Takuma Sato ‏@TakumaSatoRacer: Congrats @Hinchtown. Don’t take too much beer tonight! See you in Indy then mate.

Marco Andretti ‏@MarcoAndretti: OriolServia: Did we exchange decals there? Always fun racing you amigo MarcoAndretti <—-Always fun and clean cabron!!!

Tony Kanaan ‏@TonyKanaan: Agradeço a todos vcs pelo o apoio o final de semana todo. Vamos continuar na luta.

Dario Franchitti ‏@dariofranchitti: What are the odds of blocking being discussed at the next @indycar drivers meeting?

What’s Next: It’s the month of May, which means it’s time for the Indianapolis 500. The festivities begin this week, but things don’t get interesting until Pole Day on the 18th. The more dramatic day comes on the 19th when the drivers go through Bump Day. For the past few years, bump day has been riveting and there’s no reason to think that it won’t be the case again. The drivers hit the track for the Borg-Warner Trophy on the storied track May 26th.

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About Ava Ladner

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As an editor, Ava works through some of the site’s biggest columns while writing one of her own on F1 each week. “Stranded” on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the aspiring college professor also helps anchor other coverage while coordinating Pace Laps, our multi-series news update.