São Paulo (Non) Qualifying Report
Welcome to IndyCar, Mr. Bernard. You have to wonder if Randy Bernard is checking to see if they have filled his former post at Professional Bull Riders. I’m sure that about right now, he’s wondering just what he has gotten himself into.
This was an inauspicious start to what is a critical season for the Izod IndyCar Series. With a new CEO in Randy Bernard, a new title sponsor in Izod and a lot hinging on this season getting off on a high note – they stumbled right out of the gate.
For those that have been hooked on basketball this weekend and have not heard; qualifying for the Sao Paulo Indy 300 did not take place on Saturday as scheduled. The culprit was not weather or severe g-forces in the turns. Instead, you can blame it on the Sambadrome – the area that makes up the main straightaway.
The Sambadrome was built in 1991 for use in the Carnival of Sao Paulo. Apparently, it is used for dancing during the giant festival. Its slick, concrete surface was causing the IndyCars to dance wickedly throughout the two Saturday morning practices. When cars turned onto the main straightaway and put the power to the wheels to simply drive straight towards the start/finish line, they looked like they were dancing on ice.
Not only did it cause less experienced drivers like Milka Duno and Ana Beatriz to suddenly veer toward the wall while going straight, it also helped the more talented veteran drivers like Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, find the wall. It soon became apparent to Brian Barnhart that some significant changes needed to take place before attempting qualifying. They decided to postpone qualifying until Sunday morning, so that they could grind down the slick straightaway in order to give it grip Oops!
I don’t fault Barnhart for making the decision just before qualifying. Given the circumstances, he made the right call. You don’t want to ship back a bunch of torn up racecars next week, with the US debut in just two weeks. The start of the race alone could have resembled something out of a bad movie. Instead, the wrong call was made back in the fall, when that same track surface was deemed to be adequate for racing. Whether it was Tony Cotman, who designed the layout is the one who said it would work – it ultimately falls on Barnhart’s shoulders to give the final approval.
This is what happens when things are rushed. Last November, the odds were that this race wouldn’t even take place. Nothing had been announced and the league left themselves less than five months to throw this thing together. One of the details that was apparently overlooked was the raceability of the track surface. A lot of the track surface was actually repaved recently. The very long backstretch that all the drivers say is way too bumpy was recently resurfaced. I’d hate to see what it looked like earlier.
But the Sambadrome part of the track was dubbed race-worthy by someone. Patrick Stephan from Trackside Online took a walk around the circuit on Friday and mentioned how slick that section was. If Patrick showed concern on his first inspection of the track, why couldn’t the “experts” be alarmed about the potential for problems?
It seems like I’ve made this statement several times throughout the offseason, but – the league didn’t need this. The series has a well-earned reputation for being mismanaged and making poor choices. All this does is give fodder to the detractors who already use the league as a punch line.
Sometimes, things just happen that no one foresaw – you learn from it and you move on. This isn’t one of those times. Had the league done their homework and not acted expediently – this could have been avoided. The grinding is supposed to take only twelve hours – and that’s on short notice. Why couldn’t they just go ahead and grind it down properly last month?
I don’t believe for a minute that someone didn’t think this might be a problem. I think they looked at it, suggested doing something about it but the city was probably reluctant to deface their slick Carnival surface. Instead, someone made the wrong decision to kid themselves into thinking it may not be a problem. Brian Barnhart is always fond of using the term “unintended consequences”. Well, what happened Saturday is the unintended consequence of ignoring a potential problem.
Successful leaders like Roger Penske got where they are by anticipating anything that might go wrong, and defusing a potential problem before it ever has a chance to happen. They did not get where they are by ignoring red flags and hoping a problem wouldn’t surface. That is why the Indy Racing League has egg on their face before the first race has even run.
Enjoy the race – if it happens.