São Paulo Preview
When I think back to last year’s inaugural running of the São Paulo Indy 300, the image is somewhat cloudy. Perhaps that’s due to all of the dust that was kicked up as the starting grid rushed over the Sambadrome at speed. If you’ll recall, the slick surface of the Sambadrome had proven to resemble an ice rink as cars had to carefully tiptoe through the main straightaway to keep from skidding out of control. Credit everyone from INDYCAR to track and city officials to quickly figuring out a workable solution and grinding the track overnight. The result was a white cloud of dust as the field took the green flag.
The next image I remember is Mario Moraes landing on top of Marco Andretti’s car in the middle of the first turn. It would be the first of two years running that Marco didn’t make it past the first turn in a season opener.
With passes for the lead, long straightaways providing good passing zones and a monsoon thrown in – it proved to be one of the most entertaining street races I’ve seen. This year the São Paulo Indy 300 promises to be new and improved. They have widened some of the turns – Turn One in particular. They have sufficiently ground the Sambadrome area to suitable standards. Many parts of the track have been repaved with supposedly the same grade of asphalt used for the nearby Interlagos circuit. Also, some of the curbing has been lowered. All in all, it should provide even better racing than in 2010.
I don’t know if it’s the double-file re-starts or if I’m just happy to watch any racing, but the three road/street courses we’ve seen so far have been much more fascinating than those we’ve seen in year’s past. The fact that we’ve had three different teams win in as many races has also helped – in addition to having six different teams represented in the top six drivers in the point standings.
This will be the last of four road/street courses before the series takes on four straight ovals, beginning with the Indianapolis 500. I am not a fan of Indianapolis being the first oval of the year, nor am I crazy about the schedule being broken into quarters – with four road courses, then four ovals followed by five road courses (with an oval thrown in) then wrapping up with three ovals. I realize the teams like it because they don’t have to keep swapping back and forth between configurations, but I would prefer a little more variety from race to race.
Speaking of variety, as mentioned – there is quite a bit of variety in the point standings. All in all, there are eight teams represented in the top ten. There are the usual suspects; Dario & Dixon along with Power and Briscoe (although their teammate, Helio Castroneves is mired in fourteenth). But there is a refreshing mix throughout the top ten. Tony Kanaan is third in only three races with KV Racing Technology-Lotus. Oriol Servia and the resurgent Newman/Haas Racing is fourth. Mike Conway moved all the way up to fifth after winning Long Beach for Andretti Autosport. Alex Tagliani is quietly in sixth, now driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Simona de Silvestro slipped to a three-way tie for seventh after a disappointing weekend at Long Beach, and Vitor Meira is only two points behind in AJ Foyt’s lone entry.
Although recent history would indicate that Will Power or Dario Franchitti would be heavy favorites to win on Sunday, I think it is wide open – maybe more so, than I can ever remember. Many of these drivers fared well in last year’s race. Alex Tagliani started on the front row and ran well before a mishap on Lap 28. Vitor Meira finished third in his native country. Simona de Silvestro led four laps in her very first IZOD IndyCar Series event and finished sixteenth. Tony Kanaan started sixth and finished tenth. He is capable of doing much better with his new team. Brazilian Ana Beatriz ran well in her IndyCar debut as well – finishing thirteenth. Don’t forget that Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second behind race winner Will Power in his debut with Andretti Autosport. He has the capability to win the race on Sunday.
It’s an early race on Sunday. From what was said the other night on Trackside, don’t look at the Noon Eastern starting time and think that you’ll have a forty-five minute pre-race show before the drop of the green flag. This week, the green flag will wave shortly after the start of the telecast, with plenty of wrap-up time at the end of the telecast. If you see faded colors at times, don’t blame Versus. Last year, they were using a Brazilian feed which was sub-par in picture quality. Bob Jenkins, Wally Dallenbach and Jon Beekhuis will not be on-site. Instead, they will be watching the same feed as you and I from the safety of a studio in Indianapolis. Kevin Lee – who I still say is the hardest working person in sports – will be the only TV presence on the ground in Brazil. He should have a lot of fun covering twenty-six pit stalls by himself.
It would be easy to pick Dario Franchitti or Will Power to win Sunday. Franchitti finished seventh last year, which is somewhat forgettable, by his standards. Will Power needs a lot of points before the series takes to the ovals. Everyone says that he’s gotten the ovals figured out, but he has yet to ever win on one. Until he wins on an oval, I’m not ready to put him in the class with some of the drivers that are proven winners on ovals.
Instead, I’m going to go with a Brazilian to win at São Paulo. Helio Castroneves needs a win badly heading into May. I think he’ll get some points and some much needed momentum, but he won’t get the win. Besides, although he may be the most popular Brazilian driver in the US, I get the idea he is not the most popular Brazilian IndyCar driver in Brazil. That honor goes to the person that I think will take the checkered flag on Sunday – Tony Kanaan, who has been on bed rest all week with flu-like symptoms. Still, I think that when the visor goes down, he’ll muster up enough to perform well in his own country,
Enjoy the race!