Hinchcliffe: “It’s races like this that people remember”

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James Hinchcliffe’s last-turn move on Takuma Sato to win Sunday’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 put an exclamation point — or maybe several — on one of the best races in IZOD IndyCar Series history.

Sunday’s event was a dramatic lead-in to the Indianapolis 500, filled with gutsy drives and heartbreaking moments. But it all came to a climax when Hinchcliffe moved high and then dove low on Sato through the final hairpin to take the lead and win the race in front of a roaring crowd on the Sambadromo.

And while there won’t be much carryover from the Anhembi Park street circuit to the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the electric finish will always remain in Hinchcliffe’s mind.

“It’s races like this that people remember,” said Hinchcliffe, who became the first Canadian driver to win in Brazil since his hero, the late Greg Moore, won in 1998 in Rio de Janeiro. “It was a good show right from the start of the race till 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.”

In the final laps, Hinchcliffe made multiple attempts to pass Sato on the massive backstretch that leads to the Turn 11 hairpin, but was stopped by the ex-Formula One driver with moves that some saw as merely defensive and others saw as blatant chopping (Race Control reviewed Sato’s tactics during the final laps against both him and another contender, Josef Newgarden, but took no action on either instance).

But on the last circuit, Sato came into the hairpin too fast and needed to brake, causing his Honda’s back end to slightly but visibly step out on him. Hinchcliffe had the space he needed and proceeded to strike.

With his second win of 2013 in hand, Hinchcliffe now sets his sights on the Brickyard, where he qualified on the front row and finished sixth last season. He expects to have his highs and lows during the “Month of May,” invoking the words of a fellow driver to describe how Indy can be.

“Oriol Servia compared Indianapolis to a woman: Some days she loves you, treats you well, [and] some days, she is mad at you and you don’t know why,” said Hinchcliffe. “That’s one of the reasons for being there at Indy for the whole month, the race being as long as it is, predict what it’s going to do, change and react to the changes. It’s a very, very challenging racetrack.”

But no matter what he does at IMS in the upcoming weeks, people will indeed remember his heroics on the streets of Sao Paulo.

“That’s IndyCar racing — that’s what it’s about,” his team owner Michael Andretti said on Sunday. “It seems that so many of these races go down the last turn of the last lap. That’s what makes this such a great sport.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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