São Paulo Preview

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Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always considered the month of May to be the exclusive domain of the Indianapolis 500 on the open-wheel calendar. For only the fourth time in the eighteen-year existence of what is now known as the IZOD IndyCar Series, there is another race scheduled outside of Indianapolis to take place during the month of May. In 1999, the series ran the ill-fated race in Charlotte on May 1st. I was sitting in Turn One of that race when three spectators were fatally injured by an errant tire flying over the Turn Four catch fence. In 2010, the last IndyCar race at Kansas Speedway was also run on May 1st, which was a Saturday. The following year, the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 was scheduled to run on May 1st, but weather forced postponement to Monday May 2nd.

This year, the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 will run again in May – this Sunday, May 5th. Unless there a time in another era that I don’t know about – this will be the deepest another race has cut into the sacred month of May. The traditionalist in me doesn’t quite know what to think about that. To add insult to injury, the month of May opened with NASCAR’s lumbering stock cars on the track at IMS for testing, while the IndyCars were sitting on another continent. To quote Sheriff Taggert – I am depressed.

Anyway, this is a very important race to the series; not out of recognition to the two full-time Brazilian drivers in the series – Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves (remember that Ana Beatriz’s deal runs out after Indianapolis). Instead, it is to keep one of the most important sponsors to the series happy – ApexBrasil. Although they no longer advertise on television during race broadcasts, don’t underestimate what this sponsor means to the series. Of all the important partners to the series – IZOD, Verizon, Firestone, Honda and Chevy to name just a few – I’m told that ApexBrasil has done as much, if not more in financial, sponsor activation and behind the scenes support than any of them. With that being the case, then I think that the series can go to the trouble to race in Brazil.

As far as the race itself…well, it’s certainly not the most riveting on the schedule. It offers an interesting main straightaway through the Sambadrome that offered quite a challenge during qualifying for the first race there in 2010. The slick concrete surface proved to be like driving on ice and had to be ground overnight prior to the race just to make it drivable. The result was a giant cloud at the start of that race that may or may not have contributed to a giant pileup at the start leading into the first turn. What we would call the backstretch between Turns Ten and Eleven is over 4,100 feet and is the longest straightaway on the schedule. Speeds there can hit over 190 mph before slowing under heavy braking for the hairpin at Turn Eleven.

I may be wrong, but I don’t believe there has been a race at São Paulo that has not been affected by rain or at least the threat of rain. The inaugural event in 2010 was shortened by rain to a two-hour time limit. In 2011, the standing rain was so bad that after just fifteen laps, the race had to be postponed until Monday – when it was again shortened by rain. Last year’s race had another gloomy weather forecast, but they got the race in practically free of rain. The forecast for Sunday’s race sounds better than any forecast the series has had since they started racing the streets of São Paulo. Here’s hoping they’re right. In dry weather, this course can be very racy.

Another constant at this track has been the success of Will Power. Of the three IndyCar races held at São Paulo, Power has won all three – starting from the pole position in the last two. To say he has mastered that track is putting it lightly. Last season, Takuma Sato finished third. After coming off of an impressive victory for AJ Foyt Racing, I’ll be curious to see if he can have another strong run and carry that momentum into Indianapolis. Sato currently sits second in points. It would be good to see Foyt’s team as the points leader throughout the month of May.

Unbelievably, last year’s race at São Paulo, which was more than a year ago, is the last time that Will Power visited victory lane. It’s strange because he won all three races in April last season and he looked like a shoe-in to win the championship. But his points lead slowly evaporated throughout the summer and we all remember what happened at Fontana.

It’s not like Power is having a horrible season thus far, but to find him eighth in points after three races is a little bit out of character for him. His bad luck in two of those three races didn’t help. I look for him to get back on track and regain his form headed into Indianapolis. Others that struggled earlier who need momentum right now are Dario Franchitti and defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay who finished second at São Paulo last year. Helio Castroneves just needs to keep riding his momentum as he is the current points leader. A Brazilian has never won this race, maybe Helio can break that streak.

So far, I’m 0-for-three in picking winners this season. I think my jinx will end this weekend. Despite his woes and the law of averages, I’m picking Will Power to end his winless streak at the last place he won. He’s simply too good at this track. We’ll see. But after this race, we can get on with the real month of May.

George Phillips

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5 Responses to “São Paulo Preview”

  1. Bob F. Says:

    “the month of May opened with NASCAR’s lumbering stock cars on the track at IMS for testing, while the IndyCars were sitting on another continent.”

    This comment says or in its way can be taken to imply everything that I think is wrong with Indycar today. Hate to say it but your depression is justified.

    -Foreign races (bad idea)
    -Too many foreign drivers in relation to Americans
    -too many F1 lite street/road courses
    -de-emphasis of the Indy 500
    -Lumbering cars that are 20 mph slower than they were in the 1990’s (and no new track records)
    -Trashing of the traditions of the 500, from qualifications to the reduced Month of May.
    -Loss of marketing “wisdom” and foresight by the league owners/leaders.
    -Too much influence by the car owners, leading to what is best for the sponsors instead of what is best for the league.

    I’m sure there is more that can be added to the list. I have to admit its hard to get really worked up about this when it seems like everything in the country is on the wrong course. But its still sad to watch.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Not only is this year’s Sao Paulo race only the 4th non-Indy current series race in the month of May, it is only the 5th non-Indy and non-CART championship car race in the month since the formation of USAC.

    The 1976 Trenton 200, won by Johnny Rutherford, was run on May 2 of that year. It’s most notable for being the Janet Guthrie’s first race.

  3. Christopher Says:

    If the weeks of practice for the Indy 500 are going to be shortened anyhow I would rather have a race this weekend than another open weekend.

  4. Steve K Says:

    Why is everyone worrying about the importance of the Indy 500? From a second race at IMS to other races in May, people seem to be really paranoid. My gut instinct is that the race must not be important anymore. After thinking for a minute, I think these people are just fools.

    Give me another race in May please since Indy is a two week event anyway.

    Kurt Busch to test??? Think he will race?
    As for IndyCar alumns: How about Milka causing two accidents at the ARCA race in ‘Dega from pole position?

  5. Ballyhoo Says:

    I am a little late in commenting, but George the race yesterday was exciting down to the last corner. Whew!! Newgarden almost pulled it off. I would rather have a race too, but am greatly anticipating the 500.

    Also am glad to see that NBCSports is going to cover much of the goings on at Indy before the race on Sunday.

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