SMARTS, PATIENCE AND STRATEGY PAY OFF FOR THE MAYOR
Three wins from four races has shown the strength of the Andretti Autosport team this year, but those wins, like James Hinchcliffe's final corner, final lap pass today at Brazil to claim his second victory of the season, have required a lot of smarts from inside the cockpit and on pit lane.
“At St. Pete, it was Hinch saving his tires and Push-to-Passes that helped us in the end, and Ryan [Hunter-Reay] saved his tires to use at the end to help with the win at Barber and Hinch did the same here,” Andretti team manager Kyle Moyer told RACER
. “Everybody's giving it their all and I think it's showing.”
It showed from behind the wheel of the No. 27 Go Daddy-liveried car as well.
Hinchcliffe sat third, within striking distance of second-placed Josef Newgarden and leader Takuma Sato with approximately 15 laps to go in the 75-lap event on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and watched as the two Honda-powered drivers went hammer-and-tongs over who would take control of the race.
The driving clinic put on by the two was impressive; Sato's AJ Foyt Racing car snapped and slithered out from under him in the corners while Newgarden used every last inch of track and braking force to try and get by.
Following the Andretti script of saving as much as possible for the end, Hinchcliffe told RACER
he watched the leaders wear out their tires and consume their final Push-to-Passes before deciding to pounce.
“It started at the drop of the green for us, almost. I saw in morning warm-up that there was a reason to be concerned about how long the grip would last in the [Firestone] Reds, so we did some setup changes to take care of that during the race and I was just super-conscious the entire time to make sure the tires didn't fall off at the end,” said the Canadian.
“Those guys ahead of me were racing away and doing more damage than I was, and that made a difference in us being able to go for the win. A lot of credit is due to (his engineer) Craig Hampson, and the changes he made to protect the tires.”
Even with the extra grip and boost at his disposal, getting ahead of Newgarden and Sato wasn't easy.
“Catching them was one thing and passing them was another,” Hinchcliffe continued. “I knew it was ‘go big or go home.' Luckily, it was just enough, and [Sato] made his car REALLY wide. With two laps to go, he pushed me really wide into Turn 11 and made me take a wide line out; it wasn't optimal, so going into the last lap, I checked up a bit and it ended up being enough to go inside him at the final corner and had enough traction to put the power down and out-race him to the finish.”
Hinchcliffe was also able to answer any critics that said his win at St. Pete was a fluke--a one-time aberration.
“I think it's cool. Obviously there was pressure to get the first win. You hear all the time, ‘Don't worry, you'll get it, you'll get that win.' So then I win St. Pete and people are telling me, ‘Oh, now they're just going to start happening all the time,' and I go onto two DNFs in a row, so it's like, ‘Man, I think winning that first one has given me even more pressure.'”
I mentioned that after Long Beach, Hinchcliffe was among the thicker section of Indy car race winners in the history books. With so many drivers having won a single race, the cluster of multiple winners atop the list doesn't take up nearly as much space on the page…
“And I'm thankful to join that denser cluster of multiple winners now, believe me,” he said with a laugh.
PRIMED AND READY
One interested viewer on Sunday was the newest member of the Ganassi stable. Former Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe will miss the opening day of practice next Saturday due to a conflict with the American Le Mans Series race in Monterey, but told RACER
he's happy the road and street courses ahead of the Indy 500 are finished and the biggest race of the year is on his horizon.
“Yeah, I'm really excited,” said the 2012 Indy 500 polesitter. “The No. 8 NTT Data car came out of the paint booth before Brazil and it looks great. I'm really looking forward to getting going with the team.”
Briscoe also mentioned a neighborly move made by his former employer.
“I was at the [Ganassi] shop getting the pedals set in my car and the belts and everything else done and it was such a huge help having my 2012 seat to use,” he said. “I can't thank the Penske guys for sending it over because it just made it so easy to dial the cockpit in for me. It was a very classy thing for them to do.”
If you're a fan of KV Racing's Tony Kanaan, step right up and sponsor his car! All kidding aside, the 2004 series champion could go without corporate backing at the races aired on ABC in June unless interest parties reach out to the team.
“We can make someone or a sponsor a heck of a deal,” said KV co-owner Jimmy Vasser who also owns a number of car dealerships and clearly isn't afraid to use his salesmanship to find backing for Kanaan's Chevy-powered No. 11 car. “We have great sponsors who've signed on for most of the races, but after Indy – basically all the big races on ABC – we don't have anyone lined up, so we're working on finding new sponsors to bring on board.”
3 LIGHTS CHAMPS AT PANTHER
With Townsend Bell's announcement Sunday during the NBC Sports Network broadcast that he'll be driving for Panther Racing at the Indy 500, the 2001 Indy Lights champion will join 2009 Indy Lights champion JR Hildebrand and 1999 Lights champion Oriol Servia in a unique situation where the three combined Panther/Panther DRR drivers all won titles in the top open-wheel ladder series from their respective eras.
“I think it proves the path to IndyCar and the path to the Indy 500 still goes through Indy Lights,” Bell told RACER
. “Even though the series has gone through its peaks and valleys through the year, its value still remains. We're all cut from the same cloth and I expect big things at Indy.”
BAD DAY FOR THE BRAZILIANS
Three of the 25 drivers in the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 hailed from Brazil, and one by one, their days fell apart.
The first to go was Dale Coyne Racing's Ana Beatriz. The Sao Paulo native was in the race for just a matter of minutes before her Honda-powered car suffered the latest exhaust failure that has plagued the manufacturer since St. Pete.
Team Penske's Helio Castroneves, also from Sao Paulo, spent the race either getting hit or doing the hitting, and could have finished far better than the 13-place result he ended up with.
Saddest of all was Salvador's Tony Kanaan, who led the race on two occasions and had the partisan crowd feeling like a win could be on the cards for their countryman. Those hopes were dashed on lap 51 when Kanaan slowed and came to a stop at the start/finish line as his Chevy consumed the last drop of fuel in its tank. Kanaan, who was scheduled to pit that lap, came up just a few turns short, losing three laps as his car was towed back to the pits to be fueled and started.
Speaking to the throngs of fans in attendance after the race, Kanaan's frustrations and emotions bubbled over as the 38-year-old openly wept as he thanked the crowd over the public address system.
With his IndyCar career in its twilight phase, it's hard to say how many more chances Kanaan will have to win his home race – which he surely realized on Sunday.