Hinchcliffe takes duel with Sato for Sao Paulo triumph

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James Hinchcliffe pulled off a cross-over move on Takuma Sato in the final corner to win today’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 and become the first repeat winner of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship.

On the last lap, Hinchcliffe attempted to get past Sato on the backstretch but was denied by the Japanese racer. However, when the two came toward the right-hand hairpin at Turn 11, Sato briefly lost the back end of his car and Hinchcliffe then moved to the inside of him to make the pass and nab his second career IndyCar victory.

“There’s no cooler way to win a race than on the last corner on the last lap,” a happy Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports Network’s Kevin Lee. “Hell of a job Taku did to get up there — he was making that race car really wide, and we both had one push-to-pass left coming to that last corner.

“He’d been defending the inside pretty well, almost too well a couple of times. But he just out-broke himself a little bit. I knew he was gonna go deep, and we were able to ‘high-low’ him and get the win.”

Sato had raced Hinchcliffe particularly hard in the final laps, especially when the latter seemed set to pass him going down the nearly one- mile-long backstretch. Race Control actually stepped in to review Sato’s driving, but ultimately decided not to take any action.

Even though he came up one spot short in the end, Sato will be able to take the IZOD IndyCar Series points lead into the Indianapolis 500 by 13 points over Marco Andretti. After the race, he and Hinchcliffe embraced briefly after their frenzied battle.

“Hinch did a great manuever,” Sato told Lee. “…We didn’t think we had a car today that was capable for a win. But what a strong day for the A.J. Foyt Racing team — I’m really happy, the guys did a really nice job.”

As for Andretti, he managed to race to third at the checkered flag, claiming his second podium of the season and continuing his dramatic turnaround on road and street circuits.

“It was just about conserving the Push-to-Pass [boosts] for when it counts,” the American said of his day to Lee. “In the end, I was using them when people weren’t expecting me to use them so I could kind of snooker them. But looking from Practice One, I’m quite pleased with where we ended up today.”

Oriol Servia finished fourth in a great effort for Panther DRR as they now head for what may be the final race of their 2013 campaign at Indianapolis. Josef Newgarden had a shot a victory in the closing stages, but was unable to hang on and faded back to fifth; however, it’s still the Tennessee native’s best career result in the series.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Sao Paulo Indy 300
Final Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any)
1. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
2. (12) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
3. (10) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
4. (13) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
5. (25) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
6. (2) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
7. (3) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
8. (8) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
9. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
10. (17) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
11. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
12. (15) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
13. (18) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
14. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
15. (11) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
16. (21) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
17. (24) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
18. (6) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
19. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 75, Running
20. (9) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 73, Running
21. (4) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 72, Running
22. (19) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 71, Running
23. (14) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 71, Running
24. (22) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 17, Mechanical
25. (16) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 6, Mechanical

Race Statistics: Winners average speed: 88.070 mph; Time of Race: 02:09:34.7383; Margin of victory: 0.3463 of a second; Cautions: 7 for 19 laps; Lead changes: 9 among 7 drivers

Lap Leaders: Hunter-Reay 1 – 9, Kanaan 10 – 20, Bourdais 21 – 33, Sato 34 – 37, Hunter-Reay 38 – 44, Kanaan 45, Andretti 46 – 52, Hildebrand 53 – 56, Sato 57 – 74, Hinchcliffe 75

Point Standings: Sato 136, Andretti 123, Castroneves 116, Hinchcliffe 112, Dixon 101, Hunter-Reay 94, Wilson 91, Servia 89, de Silvestro 86, Kimball 80.

Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year’s title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

“Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time,” Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. “Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we’ve ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill.”

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

“It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon,” Hamilton said of Fangio. “He should be celebrated more for his success. He’s not mentioned a huge amount. He’s kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers.”

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races – second only to Schumacher’s 91 – and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles – losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

“Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he’ll work on those over the winter. No one’s perfect, even I have things to work on,” Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. “He’s going to raise the bar next year and I’ll have to as well, otherwise things won’t be the same.

“Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn’t down to luck,” Hamilton added. “Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year.”

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be “a walk in the park” if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

“That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up,” said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. “We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren’t good enough to take it to the last race, but there’s so much potential still.”

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because “Lewis made less mistakes” than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September – turning the tide in Hamilton’s favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers – sitting next to each other – laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

“I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play … maybe not.”