Forget laughter, winning is the best medicine, especially when it comes courtesy of a breathtaking last corner pass.
Just ask Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, who bounced back from a terrible bout of the flu to score his second career IndyCar win in spectacular fashion on Sunday in São Paulo, Brazil.
And what a win it was.
After losing two spots on a late restart, Hinchcliffe re-passed the two cars and moved back into second place with three laps to go. He then pressured leader Takuma Sato at every turn before pulling off a final turn over-under manoeuver to snatch the victory from the A. J. Foyt driver.
“To win a race on the last corner of the last lap is one of the coolest feelings,” said Hinchcliffe, who became the first repeat winner of 2013 after taking his maiden IndyCar victory in the March season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
“It’s races like this that people remember. It was a good show right from the start of the race until the end, a lot of passing, changes in strategy, things like that. I think to make a last-corner pass, that’s something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Hinchcliffe’s Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti was third followed by Panther DRR’s Oriol Servia. Josef Newgarden, of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, rounded out the top-5 with his best career finish. The second Canadian in the field, Barracuda Racing’s Alex Tagliani was 12th.
The victory moved Hinchcliffe into fourth overall in points with 112, 24 behind leader Sato. Drivers get 50 points for a win. The race is the last stop on the IndyCar schedule prior to the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
The victory was a welcome result for a driver who not only needed a good finish after two tough outings but also thought his Brazilian weekend might be in jeopardy after a flu bug knocked him off his feet last weekend.
After finding success in the first race of the year, Hinchcliffe had two dismal outings in Alabama and Long Beach, Calif., where accidents saw him finish both races in 26th place.
The illness started a week before the Brazil race and kept the 26 year old out of action until he was scheduled to board a plane to São Paulo on Wednesday evening.
“I called my engineer on Tuesday and told him I might be missing practice,” Hinchcliffe said.
“But I saw [IndyCar medical delegate] Dr. Michael Olinger and he sorted me out.”
The No. 27 Go Daddy Chevrolet driver said he was about 90 per cent by Thursday and then was back to tip-top shape once Friday rolled around. Good thing, because he needed every ounce of strength to make the win happen.
His last corner overtake was a equal mix of talent and opportunity, with Hinchcliffe pulling next to Sato in the last straight before the finish line and trying to go around the outside. When the A.J. Foyt driver couldn’t get his car slowed down and overshot the turn, Hinchcliffe let him slide past before ducking underneath his rival and taking the inside line out of the turn. It worked like a charm and Hinchcliffe crossed the line 0.3463 seconds ahead.
The pass came after Hinchcliffe tried to overtake Sato a couple of times prior to the last corner move, but the Japanese driver aggressively defended. Seconds before Hinchcliffe’s bold overtake, Sato forcefully blocked a passing attempt which almost ended with the Canadian hitting the retaining wall lining the 11-turn, 4.081-kilometre street course.
“At the time I thought it was a block, because my hand didn’t fly off the steering wheel on its own,” Hinchcliffe said after the race.
“I had to hit the brakes or I was going into the guardrail. That’s something that we have to talk about, to look at certainly. I was able to have a little bit more tire I think under me at the end of the race, was able to get around Pagenaud, Newgarden, and we were quicker than Takuma, but getting by him was a different story.”
Sato pulled the same move three times in the final few laps – twice on Hinchcliffe and once on Newgarden – and incredibly was not penalized for what can only be described as obvious blocking moves.
In Newgarden’s case, the replays didn’t offer the whole picture, so Sato can be given the benefit of the doubt. When it came to Hinchcliffe, he certainly moved off the usual racing line and angled his car to the right and toward the wall to block the Andretti driver from overtaking on the third-to-last and final laps.
Sato simply saw the final few laps as hard racing.
“We felt it was a hard, competitive fight: I lost, he won, that’s it,” Sato said.
“The last few laps were great fun from a driver’s point of view – it’s a real pity that I lost it on the final lap of the race on the final corner.”
The IndyCar rule on blocking is crystal clear, with Rule 9.3.2. stipulating that “a driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing drivers to inhibit or prevent passing. Blocking will result in a minimum of a black flag ’drive through’ penalty.”
Although Sato’s actions appeared to be be exactly what IndyCar’s definition of blocking describes, it seems some ambiguity lies in the application of the rule.
Spengler recovers, Wickens’ day ends early
Defending Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) champion Bruno Spengler looked to be a challenger for the win in the season opener in Hockenheim Sunday after the BMW driver moved from seventh on the grid to fourth by the first corner and looked like he was on a charge. He soon overtook fellow Canadian Robert Wickens for third but the wheels fell off after the BMW driver made his first pitstop for tires.
An understeer problem developed after the stop which saw the St-Hippolyte, Que., driver drop down the leaderboard quickly. Another pitstop to change his rubber again to try to clear the problem put him 17th. Spengler got the bit between his teeth and climbed 12 spots to cross the line fifth.
“I am a bit disappointed, as a podium would have been possible for me today,” Spengler said.
“The team reacted quickly enough [to the problem] to bring me back in to change tires again and that allowed me to score good points.”
His teammate Augusto Farfus took the win with another BMW driver, Dirk Werner second. Mercedes duo of Christian Vietoris and Gary Paffett were third and fourth.
It was a short race for Guelph, Ont.’s, Wickens, who qualified fourth in his first start driving a factory Mercedes car. He retired from fourth place with a stuck accelerator pedal after only five laps. It happened just as Wickens was braking for a hairpin corner and he did an amazing job avoiding a collision with Spengler’s BMW directly ahead of his Mercedes.
“If it weren’t for the problem, we would have been in the points today, for sure, maybe a podium would even have been possible,” Wickens said.
“It’s a pity that it didn’t come off, but the season still has a long way to go. I see no reason why we should not be up with the front-runners again at Brands Hatch. So, I’ll draw a line under this weekend and focus on the next race.”
The second race of the 2013 DTM season goes May 19 at the Brands Hatch Circuit, about 35 kilometres southeast of London, England.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone
Correction: James Hinchcliffe was checked by Indycar medical delegate Dr. Michael Olinger, not Dr. Steve Olvey, as was stated in an earlier version of this story.