In an epic battle, Honda-powered Takuma Sato fought tooth-and-nail with fellow Honda driver Josef Newgarden and Chevy’s James Hinchcliffe, with only a last-lap, last-turn pass by Hinchcliffe preventing Sato from winning his second consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series race Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Starting 12th, Sato took advantage of continued excellent pit work from his A.J. Foyt Racing team, jumping from 10th to fourth among the “in sequence” group that pitted on Lap 21. That became an actual fourth on the race track when the out-of-sequence runners pitted just 10 laps later. Passes of local favorite Tony Kanaan and defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay put Sato in the lead, as the Japanese driver sought to follow up his Long Beach victory two weeks ago with a second consecutive win.
Electing to pit out of the lead on Lap 36, Sato then committed to running the remaining 39 laps on a single set of soft compound “red” tires, making just a quick final pit stop under caution on Lap 51 to top off his fuel supply. Resuming in fourth place on the Lap 54 restart, Sato quickly passed both Marco Andretti and Hinchcliffe, then took over at the front when leader JR Hildebrand pitted.
Starting last in the 25-car field after mechanical problems in practice on Saturday, Newgarden took his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda through the field, going “out of sequence” and pitting on Lap 6 during an early caution, and making the strategy pay off as he emerged in second place behind Sato when the green flag waved for the final time on Lap 59.
Matching Sato move for move while searching for his first IndyCar win, Newgarden repeatedly challenged the leader around the 2.54-mile Sao Paulo street circuit while Simon Pagenaud, running third for Honda in his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports machine, faded to a ninth-place finish with handling issues.
As Pagenaud dropped back, both Hinchcliffe and Andretti closed on the leaders, with the first four cars taking the white flag side-by-side and nose-to-tail. As the quartet headed into the final hairpin corner, Hinchcliffe moved to the outside of Sato, then ducked inside in a classic “over/under” pass to claim the victory by just over three-tenths of a second. At the same time, Newgarden was unintentionally caught out in the last-turn shuffle, and dropped to an unrepresentative fifth at the checkers, still the best career finish for the second-year IndyCar racer.
After four road and street-circuit races to start the 2013 season, the IZOD IndyCar Series now returns to the U.S. for the season’s signature event: the Indianapolis 500, where Honda will be seeking its 10th consecutive victory. Practice gets underway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Opening Day on Saturday, May 11. The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 26.
IZOD IndyCar Series Drivers’ Championship (after 4 of 19 rounds):
1. Takuma Sato 136 points (1 win) 6. Ryan Hunter-Reay 94 (1 win)
2. Marco Andretti 123 7. Justin Wilson 91
3. Helio Castroneves 116 8. Oriol Servia 89
4. James Hinchcliffe 112 (2 wins) 9. Simona de Silvestro 86
5. Scott Dixon 101 10. Charlie Kimball 80
1. Chevrolet 33
2. Honda 27
Takuma Sato (#14 A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) started 12th, finished 2nd, his second consecutive IndyCar podium in 2013; moves to the lead in the drivers’ championship going into the Indianapolis 500: “We were just hanging on in the final laps. We chose the strategy to pit while leading, with nearly 40 laps remaining, and that was a lot to ask of the tires, along with a slight issue I was having with the brakes at the end. It [the battle for the win] was very close, but we had respect for each other and ‘Hinch’ [winner James Hinchcliffe] pulled off a great maneuver, so congratulations to him. I didn’t think we had a car to win today, but we still got a great result and that is the result of all the hard word from the team and Honda, they never gave up.”
Josef Newgarden (#67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda Dallara) started 25th, finished 5th, his career-best IndyCar result: “I truly think we had the winning car today, but things just didn’t go our way at the end. We had fantastic work from the entire Sarah Fisher Hartman team and from Honda this weekend. We recovered from our early problems and, even though we were starting at the back, I knew we had a great car today. It’s just a shame we weren’t able to seal it off at the finish.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: \"We missed a victory today by just a single corner! Still, it was another great result for A.J. Foyt Racing, and demonstrates that their Long Beach win was not a fluke. This is a team and driver that can contend every race weekend. A first and second in back-to-back races is how you win championships. Josef Newgarden also deserves special mention. He drove a very mature race, coming through the field to challenge for the victory. It’s disappointing not to win, particularly after coming so close, but everyone at HPD is working really hard and it’s shaping up to be a very competitive season between manufacturers.”