Random Thoughts on São Paulo

Epic. Incredible. Spectacular. Outstanding. Best racing on the planet. Instant classic. These were some of the glowing terms I saw on Twitter immediately following yesterday’s Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300; and for good reason – this may have been one of the most exciting races I have ever seen on any type of circuit and in any series. There were no late-race penalties to decide the outcome. There was no artificial fabrication (excuse the redundancy) with a green-white-checker finish. It was just good hard racing that was decided between the drivers on the track, with James Hinchcliffe making the move of the season to pass Takuma Sato on the final turn to take the win.

The last ten laps of the race were some of the most compelling I’ve ever seen in motorsports. I am a Foyt fan, but I was pulling for Nashville native Josef Newgarden to be able to come away with his first career win and give Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing their second win in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Newgarden is a special talent and his day will come. He is one of the young up and comers in this series and is learning from one of the best – his friend James Hinchcliffe – on how to interact with fans off the track. When I sat down with Newgarden in a Nashville restaurant in the summer of 2011 – I came away thinking I had just been talking to a 35 year-old veteran, not a twenty year-old that was in his first year of Firestone Indy Lights. His maturity out of the car is unbelievable. He is still learning the finer points in the car. As I say – his day will come.

Even the most ardent fan of AJ Foyt Enterprises would have a hard time saying that Takuma Sato wasn’t guilty of blocking. First it was Newgarden that was on the losing end of one of Sato’s blocks, then Hinchcliffe suffered the effects a couple of times before out-snookering Sato on Turn Eleven as they both made a frantic dash to the checkered flag. Race Control reviewed each incident. Had these occurred early in the race, I think Beaux Barfield should have assessed a penalty. However, I applaud his reluctance to affect the outcome of a race directly, within the last few laps. In the end, justice won out and the blockee won the race, while the blocker finished second. Marco Andretti fought hard to pass Newgarden and end up on the podium. Oriol Servia finished fourth, while Newgarden had used up his tires trying to get past Sato and Hinchcliffe and slid back to fifth at the finish.

The day started with Will Power starting near the back of the field due to some bad luck in qualifying. He was in the process of carving his way through the field when he experienced an oil fire. His championship hopes took another major hit as the series hits the oval portion of the schedule – not his strong suit. His teammate, Helio Castroneves had a rough day as well. Like Power, Helio started near the back, but he continued to be bounced around like a pinball all day. He finished thirteenth and dropped from first to third in points.

Tony Kanaan looked racy all day, despite torn ligaments in his right thumb as a result from his late-race crash at Long Beach two weeks ago. Regardless, he started fourth and quickly did away with everyone in front of him. When he passed Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead, the large Brazilian crowd roared with approval for their hometown hero. A slow pit stop dropped him back in the order, but he led again late in the race before running out of fuel and coasting to a slow stop right on the start-finish line.

Sato showed us that his win two weeks ago was no fluke. Hinchcliffe showed us he is going to be a major force to be reckoned with all season long. Yesterday’s battle between them will be talked about for quite a while. It actually was an instant classic – and that’s a phrase I don’t use because it really makes no sense. But in this case, it does.

Despite the fact that non-fans insist we watch this sport just for the crashes, there weren’t many of those. There were a few dings along the way, but nothing that would make SportCenter. Instead, this race was a clinic on how to appreciate what racing should be. And don’t tell me that there is no passing on a street course. That line of thinking no longer holds water. I’m an oval guy and I still prefer ovals, but yesterday’s race was about as good as it gets.

TV Coverage: Many times, the international feeds from the flyaway races leave much to be desired. Yesterday’s coverage was not the case. You wouldn’t know it, but Kevin Lee was the only one on the NBCSN telecast on the ground in São Paulo. All the rest of the guys “in the booth” were actually sitting in a studio in Indianapolis. But there was little lag time and the transition was fairly seamless. Perhaps technology has finally caught up with this situation.

Speaking of Kevin Lee, I thought he did a great job covering the entire pits by himself instead of the usual three pit reporters at domestic races. He does a good job with just the right amount of excitement in his voice while still sounding professional. Jon Beekhuis brought a lot of technical insight, while Townsend Bell provided good driving insight. I’m not even sure if Wally Dallenbach was on the telecast yesterday. If he was, he obviously didn’t bring much to the table.

As for Leigh Diffey, I’m still having a tough time adjusting my ears to him – although I know I’m in the vast minority on this. Not only does he scream unnecessarily, even while sitting in a studio and not at the track – but his dialectic pronunciation of certain words is annoying. If a southerner were to pronounce the engine manufacturer as "Honder", he or she would be labeled as an inarticulate hick. But when an Australian does it, it’s considered quaint and cultured. I’m sorry, but there is no “R” on the end of Honda.

Bad day for the home team: The three Brazilians in this race did not fare well for their home fans. Ana Biatriz had gearbox issues and had the distinction of finishing last in the race. Helio Castroneves ran as high as third due to pit stop shuffles but was never really a factor. Tony Kanaan had probably his best drive of the season before running out of fuel late in the race. If they wanted to see a neighbor do well, they were left to cheer for Venezuelan driver EJ Viso, who finished sixth.

Big-Two troubles: Last season, the new DW12 proved racy and gave a lot of unexpected results. The general consensus heading into this season was to not get used to that, because the Penske and Ganassi teams had all winter to figure this car out. Most everyone expected this season to resemble 2009 and 2010, when almost every race was won by either a Penske or Ganassi car.

Four races into this season, that is certainly not the case. In fact, four races into last season, all four races had been won by a Penske car. This year after four races, the count is three wins for Andretti Autosport and one for Foyt. For the second race in a row, a Penske or Ganassi car didn’t even make the podium. The highest finishing cars from either team belonged to Dario Franchitti, who finished seventh and Charlie Kimball, who came in tenth. When Andretti Autosport had their slide in ’09 and ’10, everyone jokingly referred to Penske and Ganassi as the Big-Two. There may still be a Big Two in the series, but results say it isn’t Penske and Ganassi. Maybe it’s Andretti and Foyt – the two biggest names from the sixties, battling it out once again.

Good looking Townsend Bell car: When Townsend Bell confirmed on the air that he had signed with Panther Racing for the Indianapolis 500, they briefly showed his car that will be sponsored by Sunoco and Turbo, the movie. Based on what I saw the few seconds they showed the car, it may be the best looking car in the field. The only thing that would make it better would be to have it the sparkling Sunoco blue (instead of yellow) so that it could resemble Mark Donohue’s 1972 winner. I know…I live in the past.

All in all: Although I’m still not a fan of having another race in the Month of May – this was a great way to kick things off. You couldn’t ask for a better race than what we got yesterday. The IZOD IndyCar Series is certainly riding a wave of momentum headed into the month. There have been four good to great races and it seems that every race is better than the one before it. Speaking of momentum – Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt Enterprises are leading the points battle heading into the Indianapolis 500. Having Foyt at the top of the charts during the Month of May just seems natural. After two bad races, James Hinchcliffe certainly has some much-needed momentum. He has two wins and two DNF’s for the four races in this young season. One thing I never saw coming was that Marco Andretti is now second in points. He is the only driver in the series that has not had a finish worse than twelfth. He has quietly put together a stellar first part of the season. Momentum is on his side as well.

Speaking of Indianapolis: Now that Brazil is done, the Month of May can begin in earnest. Opening Day at The Speedway is this Saturday. The first indication that May is in full swing is that beginning tonight, Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee goes nightly at 7:00 Eastern.

Then, my personal favorite May tradition starts tonight at 8:00 Eastern – The Talk of Gasoline Alley with Donald Davidson. If you’ve never listened to Donald and want to get the full flavor of what the Indianapolis 500 was like decades ago, tune in to Donald and sit back and enjoy. I cannot think of a better way to spend an hour each night.

You can hear both at 1070The Fan.com or if you have a smartphone, there is a 1070 The Fan App available for Android and iPhone and it’s free. The App makes listening anywhere possible.

And remember – I am posting every weekday here throughout the Month of May, for whatever that’s worth. Enjoy the month, everyone. I know I will.

…Now stay tuned for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!

George Phillips


15 Responses to “Random Thoughts on São Paulo”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Great post George…

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    I really enjoy your Monday morninng race recaps George. In my case it is because I don’t have cable, so I have watched timing and scoring and used my imagination kind of like back in the day of radio.

    Having watched the highlight video now, I too am glad that there were no blocking penalties assessed at the end of the race. While HInchcliffe graciously said that Sato outbraked himself in the last turn, you got it right that Sato was indeed “snookered”. That move was classic!

    Having some new blood winning races and being competitive is wonderful for the series imho. Now it is May and I am really stoked.

    In addition to Curt Cavin and the usual blogger suspects, I also look at Norris McDonald’s column in the Toronto Star on a regular basis. IndyCar gets a lot of love in Canada. We need another race there.

    Thanks for your time and effort George.

  3. Tom G. Says:

    Wow. Just wow. What a great product Indycar has put out on the track. Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. Only 3 more weeks to Indy!!!!!!!

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I was especially impressed that the racing was tremendous throughout the race, it wasn’t just the end that was exciting. I am not sure I agree, though, with Barfield keeping the black flag rolled up. Yes, Sato recieved his comeuppance when Hinch used those blocking moves against him going into the final turn, but allowing Sato to commit 3 seperate blocking incidents without penalty sets a bad precedent. I suppose the non-call was OK in the context of this race, but I will not be surprised if we see some nasty blocks thrown in future races.

    Your suspicions on the broadcast were correct, George, Dallenbach was not in the booth. Robin Miller was, but he didn’t get much in other than a nice crack at Foyt’s old pit crew (of 90 year olds, doing 65 second pits stops).

    I think I’ve gotten used to Diffey’s accent and sometimes silly mannerisms, but I’m not sure I’ll get used to how much more often he talks than Bob Jenkins did. Doesn’t leave as much room for the other guys. I can handle Diffy’s “Honder” and “Simoner”, but if he starts bringing up the “Maz-der Road To Indy”… and thank goodness there is not an Indycar engine built by “HIgh-un-die”. I guess the whole “Hyundai, like Sunday” ad campaign was only for North America.

  5. redcar Says:

    Good race. Great ending. Hinch, Sato, Joe New and even Marco are exciting young drivers and deserve attention. Good “no-call” on Sato blocks but he deserved at least a warning, not sure if he was given one.

    I like Diffey’s enthusiasm, not bothered by accent.

    More convinced than ever that it’s not that ovals are better than twisties or vice-versa, but it’s the design of each specific oval or street or road course that makes for good racing. Also convinced that’s it’s the proper mixture of ovals and non-ovals that makes Indycar unique in the racing world.

    It’s good to race in Brazil. I think they should still race in Japan also, either at Motegi or a street course, but there are good fans of the series in both places and it just seems like good business, despite the (Japan) time difference.

    Looking forward to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

  6. Carburetor Says:

    What a terrific race! Kudos to Hinch for figuring out how to get around Sato at the end; though I do not condone the blocking, I did laugh at Sato not necessarily denying he was blocking in his post-race interview. I was hoping for Newgarden to at least get a podium finish, but it was terrific to see him in the hunt to the very end. I can’t remember when neither the Penske or Ganassi teams were as irrelevant as they have been so far this year–sort of exciting for the series IMO. As usual, am continually disappointed in the KV team; yesterday’s effort was pretty forgetable. I also have to give credit to Marco for his efforts this year–looks like driving school in the off-season has paid off for him.

    Looking forward to the big race this month!

    • billytheskink Says:

      The last time Penske and Ganassi have struggled this much may have been 2005, when both ran the Toyota engine that Andretti’s Hondas regularly smoked.

      Even so, this year marks the first time since 2000 that neither team has won one of the first 4 races in whichever series they’re competing in. Interestingly enough, they combined to win the next 4 races that season.

  7. I’ll take the Brazil race as an opener for May every year. It made the weekend for me.

  8. Jim Gray Says:

    If I think it was blocking (which I do) or not doesn’t change the fact that it was one hell of a race. It seems that great racing throughout the entire field is becoming a trademark of IndyCar. I can watch a pass for 15th and be just as amazed as when the leaders are battling because on any given weekend that 15th place finisher will be the next race winner. The drivers and teams are putting out an incredible product, this years Indianapolis 500 is going to be EPIC!

    • Jim Gray Says:

      Side note: I don’t blame Sato, for the lead and another win, I would have thrown the moves as well. 🙂

  9. Great recap George. That was a race to make an auto racing fan out of anybody who saw it or watches a replay. I was on the edge of my seat the whole race. Four cars battling for the win at the white flag is unusual in any form of racing, an not having positions decided until the finish line is all anyone can ask for.

  10. Entertaining race to say the least… the blocking no call drives me absolutely nuts.

    Consistency is officiating is an absolute imperative. A block needs to be penalized harshly regardless of situation, just as punting a tire or driving over the pit speed limit should be penalized without discrimination.

    The series cannot regain legitimacy by riding grey areas. Should they implement the “It’s okay to run over a hose because nobody got hurt” policy? I think not.

    Drivers continue to jump starts, because they know that in the long run they benefit due to advantages gained overwhelmingly exceeding the near zero frequency of penalty.

    Going forward, how can the series justify a penalty for blocking of equal magnitude to Sato’s? Why should the next driver be penalized if Sato wasn’t?

    Finally, on some of the longest straits on the schedule, why can fewer than 5 rows properly form up and avoid running away from the pack? The answer is race control’s incompetence.

  11. James T Suel Says:

    It was one of the best road/street race ive seen. !

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