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BUT INDYCAR FORGETS LESSON LEARNED WHEN KROSNOFF KILLED
TWO NASCAR RACES ALSO WON ON THE LAST LAP
Years ago, when I started writing stories about Indy car racing's newest super nova, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, I thought he was one of the most delightful people I had ever met but a race driver of marginal talent.
It wasn't because I didn't think he was a good racing driver. It's just that the higher up the open-wheel ladder you get, you run into a whole bunch of other drivers who are just as good or better than you are.
As a result, Hinch's trips to Victory Lane lacked, shall we say, any degree of regularity, which is something you look for when evaluating a potential champion.
With his thrilling last lap, last corner, victory Sunday in the Sao Paulo Indy 300 through the streets of the Brazilian city, Hinchcliffe scored his second victory of the four-race-young 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season and showed the world that when the chips are down, he's as brave and as fast and as hard a racer as anyone in the sport today.
Takuma Sato, driving for A.J. Foyt and winner of the last race in Long Beach, finished second, 0.3463 of a second behind the winner, and Hinchcliffe's Andretti Autosport teammate, Marco Andretti, was third.
Police-sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay was 11th. Will Power - who won the last three Sao Paulo races - was eliminated when his car caught fire. Alex Tagliani, the second Canadian in the race, finished 12th.
Hinchcliffe, 26, won the season-opening race - and the first race of his big-league IndyCar career - in St. Petersburg, Fla., in March. Then he failed to finish the next two races at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
“There’s no cooler way to win a race - in the last corner of the last lap," said Hinchcliffe, the series' first repeat winner of 2013, moments after getting out of his car.
"Takuma was making that race car really wide and he was defending the inside pretty well - almost too well a couple times. He just outbroke himself just a little bit and I was able to do a high-low (pass) and get the win."
Hinchcliffe was running third late in the race while Sato, who was leading, battled hard to hold off Josef Newgarden. As they fought each other, the Oakville driver gradually caught up to them.
"Thank goodness they were racing, or I never would have caught them," Hinchcliffe said "It's awsome to get my second win. One was good, but two's better."
Team owner Michael Andretti loved the results.
"That's Indy car racing," he said. "That's what it's about. It seems that so many of these races go down to the last turn of the last lap - that's what makes it such a great sport. I'm glad we came out on the good end of the stick for sure. It's awesome to have two cars on the podium (Hinchcliffe and Marco A.)."
Hinchcliffe's victory moved him up to fourth in the points race behind Sato, Andretti and Helio Castronever, who finished 13th Sunday.
Next stop: the Indianapolis 500 in three weeks.
It was an excellent race, with lots of dicing in the pack and good, hard racing toward the end. In the closing laps, Sato made it very difficult for, first, Newgarden to pass him, and then Hinchcliffe.
Asked if he thought he was blocking, which is illegal in open-wheel racing, Sato acknowledged that to be the case. "You could say that," he replied when a TV interviewer asked him about it.
"But it's a matter of trust," he said. "We are a group, we were passing together, we could see in our mirrors, we could see what each of us were doing. I am sure he had great confidence in me. I think I'm okay and we had such fun."
The last-second pass, for those of you who didn't see it (or haven't seen it on the newscasts) went like this:
Sato was ahead on a long straight on the last lap. Hinchcliffe was right behind him and had one "push-to-pass" burst left (push-to-pass allows a driver to increase horsepower for short periods) while Sato was out of them (each driver gets a limited number to use during the race).
Hinchcliffe dove to the inside heading for the final, right-hand turn. Sato moved over to chop off his progress - known as "defending one's position" in road-racing circles and "blocking" in oval racing.
Hinchcliffe then pulled to the outside, as if to pass Sato on his left. The Japanese driver moved over to block the Canadian as they reached the corner (Hinchcliffe was very kind to suggest Sato had "outbraked" himself) and, in that millisecond, Hinchcliffe cut sharply inside Sato and exited the corner in the lead.
Which he held for the final 300 yards of the race.
How soon they forget. The street-race death in Toronto in 1996 of CART racer Jeff Krosnoff, I mean, which happened when he went to pass another driver going into Corner 3 of the track at the CNE and that driver moved over to block him.
Krosnoff went up and over that other car, smashing into a light standard. He was killed instantly. A marshal, Gary Avrin, also died - hit by a wheel of the car as it started up on its fatal flight.
Takuma Sato blocked two drivers Sunday in exactly the same manner - first, Josef Newgarden and then James Hinchcliffe. Hinch, in fact, came very close to clipping the rear of Sato's car.
Although some could argue that Sato was simply defending when he moved over on Hinchcliffe, there is no excuse what he did to Newgarden (replays clearly showed he moved twice).
That the IndyCar officiating crew, led by Beaux Barfield, saw no reason to discipline him is scary. Why? Because all the other drivers will see what Sato got away with and they will now do it too.
To make matters worse, Sato admitted to blocking (see above). And here's what the 2013 IndyCar rule book says about it:
"9.3.2. Blocking – 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."
I'd suggest that's exactly what Sato did to Newgarden and Hinchcliffe. If the Barfield-led officials reviewed his moves and determined he didn't block, then the Indy car series is in bigger trouble than anybody ever imagined.
The installation of Barfield, which followed the firing of previous head of race control Brian Barnhart, was carried out by former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard at the behest of certain influential media.
Barnhart certainly had his faults, but the officiating in the IndyCar series since has not been any better and, it could be argued, has gotten worse.
This is another prime example.
Hey, Hinchcliffe was a star on the track and off it, too. He starred in many of the Go Daddy commercials that aired on Sportsnet during the coverage of Sunday's race.
The start of the race and the restarts were terrific. IndyCar obviously slowed down the field and made the drivers line up properly before throwing the green, something that didn't even come close to happening in Long Beach. Will that be the case in Toronto, too? Hope so.
All those Kit Kart chocolate bar signs told me something: you can attract sponsorship for a car race these days far away from the traditional auto-related advertisers.
How the camera lies: I'm sure they had a decent crowd in Sao Paulo Sunday but when the camera scanned the grandstands from ground level and at an angle, the place looked packed. The overhead shot from the helicopter showed a completely different picture, though. In fact, I bet there were more people in the traffic jam on the freeway beside the circuit than there were actually in the grandstands.
OTHER RACING THIS WEEKEND
- In the opening race of the 2013 season for the German Touring Championship (DTM), Augusto Farfus was first in a BMW. Defending champion Bruno Spengler of Saint-Hypolite, Que., finished fifth. Poor Robert Wickens, of Guelph and Toronto, started fourth and had moved up to third but a gearbox problem forced him out of the race on the fifth lap. . .
- When NASCAR goes to the Talladega Super Speedway, they should always turn on all the lights in the place. Both times this weekend - the Nationwide race Saturday and the Sprint Cup race Sunday - were almost called on account of darkness following three-hour-plus rain delays. They got them both in, but it was close.
Regan Smith won the Nationwide race but it was a controversial call. After the red flag for the rain, NASCAR cut 10 laps from the race distance because it was getting dark. When there was a yellow, they called for one shot at a green-white-checkers finish and when there was another yellow they said Smith was ahead when the field was frozen, even though Kasey Kahne crossed the finish line in front.
Oh, and there were lots of crashes.
Sunday was almost a carbon copy of Saturday, with a three-hour rain delay. Six laps or so before the end, there was a classic Talladega "Big One" and Kurt Busch's car flipped half a dozen times, even landing on top of Ryan Newman's car and just about destroying it.
Danica Patrick was caught up in her second wreck of the weekend (she crashed in the Nationwide race Saturday) and was furious as she seemed to be heading for a top ten finish.
The race was won by David Ragan, who thanked God, first, and teammate David Gilliland, second, for getting him the victory as Gilliland pushed Ragan into the No. 1 position on the last lap of the restrictor-plate race.
Gilliland also thanked God first, and Ragan second for being in position for him to push. Complete details and full results can be found by clicking here.
Formula One returns next weekend with the Grand Prix of Spain at Catalunya. The start of the "European season" always brings out the best in everybody. Reports in Europe, meantime, suggest technical chief Charlie Whiting will be meeting with team principals to discuss a possible demerit-points system to govern driver behaviour. . . At the Jerez circuit in Spain, Dani Pedrosa won the Moto GP race, with youngster Marc Marquez second and Jorge Lorenzo third. Marquez muscled Lorenzo out of the way on the last lap to just squeeze into the runner-up spot. . . . Audi cars swept the podium at the Six Hours of Spa FIA World Endurance Championship race. . . . Ryan Villopoto won his tenth supercross of the season Saturday night in Las Vegas. he wrapped up the Monster Energy Supercorss Championship earlier, so this was just icing on the cake. . . .
Posted at 02:54 PM in Auto racing, Firestone Indy Lights, Formula One, Honda Indy Toronto, Indy 500, IZOD IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe, Racing, Robert Wickens, Sports | Permalink
IZOD IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato
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I live in Wisconsin a short distance from the historic Milwaukee Mile. I stumbled across your column while looking for Toronto news about the Mayor of Hinchtown. I enjoy it so much that I now read it each day as well as Curt Cavin's column in the Indianapolis Star. This IndyCar season has had some very exciting racing and many interesting storylines. I would like to see more IndyCar races in Canada. What (where) would be your choice for a second race? I enjoy your coverage of the short tracks also.
Ron Ford |
05/05/2013 at 09:12 PM
Don't be bagging on Indycar for blocking when your heroes that can't even race in the rain (NASCAR) have people up above telling drivers how to block and which way to move to do it.That is what causes most of their crashes btw.
After a great and exciting egde of the seat final 20 laps in Brazil, the farce that is NASCAR should be thankful that Ryan Newman or Kurt Busch was not hurt in another of their demo derby inspired (races)
I was not a fan of the new Indycar as it is butt ugly, but to watch a local guy win on that stage against some pretty stout talent sure made a weekend without F-1 worthwhile.
05/06/2013 at 07:45 AM
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