It used to be that we didn’t expect much passing from a street race but that’s changed since the introduction of the DW12. That was never more evident than yesterday in Sao Paulo when an absolutely epic IndyCar race ended with a pass for the win on the final turn of the last lap to give the Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe, his second win of the season.
For the second straight year, the race was dry but that definitely didn’t mean that the race was uneventful.
The race started with Ryan Hunter-Reay on the pole and he did stay up front for a little bit. Teammate EJ Viso started alongside on the front row but didn’t last too long. He was quickly picked off and fell pack in the order. The hardest charger was Tony Kanaan who started 4th but was able to take the lead from RHR after the first restart.
Kanaan led the race twice and the Brazilian crowd roared with approval to drown out the sound of the engines. However, Kanaan’s race would end badly as he ran out of fuel which dropped him to a 21st place finish.
When Kanaan wasn’t out front on pace (rather than pit strategy), it was Hunter-Reay. He was able to keep near the front despite being on a two-stop strategy rather than the more common three-stop strategy. Having to save fuel allowed Takuma Sato to climb to the front.
It looked like Sato’s extra stop would take him out of contention for the win but after numerous cautions and everyone made their final stops, Sato was back on point. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Hunter-Reay who would challenge him but Josef Newgarden. The younger American driver was all over the back of Sato for the final ten laps but fell back of contention after he was strongly defended (a block in all but official ruling) by Sato.
This allowed James Hinchfliffe to enter the picture. Hinch slowly caught the lead pair and was able to erase the gap by saving his final five pushes-to-pass for the final five laps. With four to go, he powered by Newgarden.
With his sights set on Sato, Hinch made a move into the final hairpin with two to go but was strongly warded off by Sato in a move that could have easily been called a block. On the final lap in the final turn, Hinch pulled a crossover move as he started outside and finished the turn on the inside to slip by Sato and outdragged him to the checkered flag and a fantastic win.
The win was Hinchcliffe’s second of the season and second of his career. That means he has doubled Danica’s career wins total, though he already had more wins than Danica did for GoDaddy. Sato almost went back-to-back but had to settle for second. Marco Andretti finished 3rd to claim his second podium of the season after taking Newgarden with two to go. Newgarden’s final turn move on Andretti allowed Oriol Servia to slip by into 4th in DRR’s second-to-last race. Newgarden brought it home in a career-best 5th after starting dead last.
E.J. Viso had an up and down day but managed to finish 6th. Dario Franchitti looked like he was going to be a contender but circumstances dropped him back to 7th. Simona de Silvestro scored her third-straight top ten on a street course in 8th. Speaking of three-straight, Simon Pagenaud scored his third-straight top ten by crossing the line 9th. Charlie Kimball rounded out the top ten in 10th.
As I think I’ve noted on my Twitter account the last few years, IndyCar really has to spring for the NBC Sports Network production crew to actually go to Brazil to put this race together. The local director and camera people just aren’t of the same caliber as the regular crew.
Despite the fact that the racing is getting better and the TV ratings are on the way up, it’s still not enough to keep Dreyer & Reinbold Racing afloat. The team currently known as Panther DRR (after partnering with Panther Racing to get a Chevy engine in 2012) will be forced to either shut down for the season after the Indy 500.
DRR was able to overcome having a Lotus paperweight of an engine in the car for the first four races of 2012 to be the highest finishing team in the standings that switched engines during the year. That’s largely thanks to driver Oriol Servia but there’s a solid team at DRR supporting Servia’s efforts. Hell, immediately after getting a Chevy engine, DRR went out and finished 4th in the Indy 500 and picked up four top-fives from the next six races.
DRR is believed to have about half of what is needed to run a whole IndyCar season. Scuttlebutt is that the cost to run a full season is $5 – 6 million. Dennis Reinbold is actively searching new money from either sponsors or investors to wind back up. I hope they’re able to find it. It’s a good team with a good driver who can upset the apple cart with some solid runs.
I’ll go over Indy 500 coverage plans in a minute but let’s talk about the entry list first. As of writing, we are at 33 cars on the entry list. In addition to the 25 series regulars, there will be one-off entries for Conor Daly (#41 AJ Foyt Racing), Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Ryan Briscoe (#8 Chip Ganassi Racing), Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing), Michel Jourdain (#17 Rahal Letterman Lannigan) and AJ Allmendinger (#2 Penske Racing). This weekend, Buddy Rice (Schmidt-Hamilton) and Townsend Bell (Panther) added their names to the list to fill the field.
In addition to the 33 already entered, there are a number of drivers looking to find their way into the field. Jay Howard, Bryan Clauson, John Andretti and the Lazier brothers, Jaques and 1996 500 winner Buddy, are trying to put together deals. If any of those drivers put a deal together, we can have some bumping on bump day which was lacking in last year’s 500.
Speaking of Indy, Kurt Busch will be testing an Andretti Autosport car at the Speedway on the Thursday before practice begins for the 500.
This isn’t supposed to be a prelude to Busch doing the double this year. It was a special test setup by the Speedway and Michael Andretti. However, Busch gave a pretty large hint that he’d like to try the double at some point in the future. He previously tested a Champ Car for Bobby Rahal in 2003 so it’s not his first go in an open-wheel car.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Busch acquitted himself well in this test. After all, he’s driven damn well near everything with wheels. He’s won in all three NASCAR national touring series, raced in NHRA Pro Stock, tested an Aussie V8 Supercar, tested a Champ Car and now is getting a taste of an IndyCar. You know, maybe he could make a solid go of the double.
The next round of the 2013 IndyCar Series is the granddaddy of them all. It’s the 2013 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. I know that the Daytona 500 calls itself “The Great American Race” but there is no more important race in America than the Indy 500. That race has sent drivers to Formula One based on success in that race. That race has had Formula One teams and drivers parachute in to get the biggest prize in American motorsport. This is truly a race unmatched in prestige in America.
Last year, the Chevys were strong on Pole Day while the Hondas came to the front as the boost was turned down for race day. Could we see a repeat this year or will the Hondas have more qualifying speed and the Chevys be racier on race day? We’ll be back after qualifying weekend with a wrap-up of Pole Day, Bump Day and the week’s major stories.