The streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, were taken over by “The Mayor of Hinchtown” this past weekend when James Hinchcliffe earned his second victory of the IZOD IndyCar Series season at the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle. In what was arguably one of the most exciting street race finishes in recent series history, the 26-year-old Canadian driver for Andretti Autosport overtook the emerging Takuma Sato in the final turn of the final lap to win by .3463 of a second.
“There’s no cooler way to win a race, in the last corner of the last lap,” Hinchcliffe said. “Takuma (Sato) was making that race car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well, almost too well a couple of times. He just out-braked himself just a little bit and I was able to do a high-low (pass) and got the win.”
Sato, in the midst of a surprising season for A.J. Foyt Racing and coming off his first career victory two weeks ago in Long Beach, Calif., did everything he could to stave off the charge by various competitors over the last couple of laps. Armed only with one more push-to-pass opportunity and aware drivers behind him may have had more, Sato was successful in holding off multiple charges from Hinchcliffe and American Josef Newgarden over the final six laps.
After 10 turns, it was the 11th and final one that Sato’s worn rear tires couldn’t hold his line and allowed Hinchcliffe the slight daylight he needed to cut inside with 300 yards to go and deny Sato’s bid for a second consecutive victory.
“I think I tried everything I could to defend,” Sato said. “I was really struggling on the grip the last laps. It’s a real pity that I lost it on the final lap of the race on the final corner.”
Sato’s maneuvers over the last few laps were upsetting to some and even caught the eye of INDYCAR Race Control. The apparent blocks on Hinchcliffe and Newgarden prompted INDYCAR to review the tape during the final laps. Race Control didn’t find any wrongdoing on Sato’s end, but asked after the race by a television reporter if he was concerned during the waning moments that he may be penalized for blocking, Sato replied, “You could say that.”
Despite the unfortunate finish, not all was lost for Sato. In fact, the Japanese driver saw more positives than negatives, noting that the race showed how “competitive” his A.J. Foyt Racing team is after four races. Sato also took over the top position in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, marking the first time an A.J. Foyt Racing driver has done so since 1998 when Kenny Brack won the series title. Sato currently holds a 13-point advantage over Hinchcliffe’s teammate Marco Andretti leading into the 97th Indianapolis 500.
“You always like to be leading the points regardless of where you’re going,” Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and team owner A.J. Foyt said. “But we’ve just got to come out of there with a bigger lead in points.”
Sato nearly won the Indianapolis 500 last year, but his aggressive move while running second to Dario Franchitti heading into Turn 1on the final lap resulted in his car spinning into the outside wall. Franchitti went on to secure his third Indy 500 crown.
For Hinchcliffe, the win this weekend in Sao Paulo couldn’t have come at a better time. Starting off the season perfectly with his first career victory at the opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., he struggled at the next two races – Birmingham and Long Beach – where he recorded DNFs at both.
“The joke is that we’ve won every race we’ve finished,” Hinchcliffe said. “If we can keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”
With the victory at Sao Paulo, Hinchcliffe became the first Canadian driver to win in Brazil since the late Greg Moore did it in 1998 in Rio de Janeiro.
“Obviously, Greg Moore was my hero growing up,” Hinchcliffe said. “When I got to INDYCAR, the biggest pressure I put on myself was to maintain the reputation that Canada has with their INDYCAR drivers. To be able to do that now, not only make it to this level, but be successful at that level, I’m proud.”
He certainly has a lot to be proud of, or perhaps thankful for, this season. Despite having completed the third fewest number of laps over four races (222 of a possible 355), Hinchcliffe has two wins and sits in fourth place, just 24 points behind Sato heading into the Indianapolis 500.
Hinchcliffe and the IZOD IndyCar Series will return to Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 550 on Saturday, June 8. Hinchcliffe finished fourth in last year’s Firestone 550 and fortunately for his GoDaddy.com team he may hold a slight advantage over his competition this season. In March, he got to know the banking between Turns 1 and 2 a little bit more when he participated in a basketball trick-shot competition at Texas Motor Speedway. Hinchcliffe joined NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Travis Pastrana and James Buescher to team up with the trick-shot specialists of Dude Perfect. The promotional video that has garnered nearly 450,000 hits can be viewed here on Dude Perfect’s YouTube channel.