There have been some excellent races in the IZOD IndyCar Series over the years, but few of them can hold a candle to the thrilling finish of the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil on Sunday afternoon, which culminated in a no-quarter-given three-way battle for victory between AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato, Andretti Autoport's James Hinchcliffe and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden.
As if that line-up wasn't enough, there was also some stunning hard racing between Marco Andretti and Oriol Servià, a cameo guest appearance in the lead for local hero Tony Kanaan that set the crowd alight with approval - and a literally fiery end to the day for Will Power, the three-time winner of the event.
Polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay had got off to a good start as the green flag waved for the start of the 75-lap event, but EJ Viso alongside him had a less successful time of it and immediately succumbed to both Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan as both men had the advantage of starting the race on the faster, grippier red wall option tyres. It was a clean start, although further down the field there was front wing damage to Josef Newgarden and subsequently to Helio Castroneves who tapped the back of his team mate Will Power's car through a congested hairpin. However the first full caution didn't materialise until seven laps into the race, when local star Ana Beatriz ground to a halt in her Dale Coyne Racing #18 and needed collecting by the safety crew.
"The exhaust broke on the car and ended our day way too soon," explained Beatriz. "I'm disappointed that we couldn't have had a better finish for our sponsor Ipiranga today. Things were going really well this weekend and we thought we were going to have a good result today in the race."
It was far too early for the leaders to pit, but some of those at the back decided nothing ventured was nothing gained and went for the off-sync three-stop strategy. Heading into the restart, Tony Kanaan found a beautiful line through the final corner onto the start/finish straight that gave him the perfect line to jump Franchitti for second spot, and he liked it so much that he tried it next time around on the race leader Hunter-Reay, as well. It paid off just as well second time around, as the huge cheer from the exuberantly partisan crowd could attest.
The early hopes that Will Power might charge through the field and contend for the race win were boosted when he made up ten positions early on, only to be dashed again on lap 18 then an oil fire set light to the rear right of the #12 car and forced him to come to a rapid halt and jump out before the barbecue really began. It's the first time that the Australian has failed to finish a road/street course event since 2011 at Toronto, and the first time that he's failed to win the Sao Paulo race since the event joined the IndyCar calendar in 2010.
"Obviously burned something with the gear shift because it stopped shifting," Power told the media once he got back to pit road. "I was looking for the automatic shift or the manual shift, but yeah it was a fire. We don't know what happened, I had no real warning, unfortunately. I had such a good car man, I was passing a car a lap."
Power's on-track bonfire of used parts brought out the second caution of the afternoon, the timing of it not ideal for those teams going for a two-stop strategy. Even so the top 12 all dutifully came in, leaving those cars that had come under the first yellow - Sebastien Bourdais, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servià - in charge of the race for the restart. Ryan Hunter-Reay narrowly won the race off pit road over Scott Dixon, while Tony Kanaan's lead had evaporated with his pit crew's problems fitting the fuel nozzle.
The restart on lap 23 was a messy one, Castroneves overshot the first chicane while Bourdais lost his rear end and clouted the tyre wall with the right rear wheel; then James Jakes ploughed in, missed his braking point and sustained a more heavy hit with the same tyre wall. That left him stationary and backed up the rest of the field, which left race control with no option but to throw a third caution straight away to get everyone re-fired.