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Hinchcliffe wins final race before Indy

The SportsXchange

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- James Hinchcliffe saved his best for last on Sunday in the IndyCar Series' final race before the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe swung his car inside of Takuma Sato's in the last corner of the Itaipava 300, motoring past the Japanese driver in the run to the checkered flag.

Sato fought back valiantly but could not recover in time to beat the Canadian. Still, the A.J. Foyt Racing driver is the series points leader heading to the 500.

Practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway begins Saturday.

Hinchcliffe suggested that Sato came close to getting a blocking penalty. Sato agreed.

Sato also had a questionable move on Josef Newgarden, but race director Beaux Barfield did not penalize Sato.

The result of it all was a thrilling race. It might have been the most entertaining street circuit event in IndyCar history. The series has raced on such circuits since 2005.

Behind Hinchcliffe and Sato at the finish were Marco Andretti, Oriol Servia and Newgarden.

Will Power had won the previous three races in Sao Paulo but wasn't a factor this time. His car caught fire on Lap 19, ending his race. He finished 24th of 25 drivers.

Power was in the midst of carving his way through the field after a tough break in qualifying -- a caution ended the first-round session before he could post a qualifying time -- forced him to start 22nd. It was the second-lowest starting spot of his IndyCar career. Only the 2008 start at Indianapolis (23rd) was lower.

Power was up to 11th place when the fire started. He parked the Team Penske car and escaped to prevent injury, but he became the second car out after Brazilian Ana Beatriz.

Power, who had won the three previous races in Sao Paulo, finished 24th and is 17th in the standings. At least he had the presence of mind to remove the expensive high-tech steering wheel and take it with him.

Power was fortunate not to be taken out on Lap 11 in a flurry of contact behind Tony Kanaan taking the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay. Graham Rahal got together with rookie Tristan Vautier, who bumped Servia. Helio Castroneves ran into the back of Power. None of them had enough damage to come to pit road for repairs at that point.

The restart on Lap 24 after Power's fire was exciting. With Sebastien Bourdais leading a race for the first time since his Champ Car days, Castroneves forced the action heading to Turn 1. Bourdais struck the tires as Castroneves drove through the run-off area.

Behind them was a scramble that saw James Jakes hit the tires because he drove into Turn 1 too deep. Rahal and Ed Carpenter got the worst of it, although stalled engines were the extent of their delay.

Castroneves was spun around on the restart, taking a bump from Scott Dixon. No penalties were given because Simon Pagenaud made a quick move in front of the Brazilian, who had to take evasive action. That's when Dixon hit him.

That there weren't more problems in the Turn 1-2 complex was a testament to the modifications made by track officials. The quick left-right combination was wider at the exit, giving the drivers more room to maneuver.

Rahal's day ended there. He entered Turn 1 too quickly, hit the tire barrier and skidded into the Turn 2 wall, his left hand flying off the steering wheel.

As with most cautions, another quickly followed on Lap 40. With Andretti and Servia jockeying for the fourth position, a stack-up happened behind them. Bourdais hit Castroneves, flattening the rear tire. Castroneves was unable to turn his car, collecting Pagenaud. From there, it was a mess, with JR Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball helpless to avoid making it a five-car stoppage.

Several drivers were penalized for exceeding the pit road speed limit.

Kanaan had a strong run, leading his first laps in his hometown, but his KV Racing Technology team ran him out of fuel ahead of the final pit stop. The car came to a stop at the finish line that Hinchcliffe would later cross.
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