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!