São Paulo Preview
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.