29 April 2011
Preview: teams and drivers head to Brazil
IndyCar is heading to São Paulo for its first non-US race of 2011 this weekend, as announcements suggest a second Brazilian event may be on the calendar next year.
Drivers and teams have been arriving in São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, for this weekend's Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestlé. And with the likes of Mike Conway only departing the UK on Thursday it might seem as through they're cutting it rather fine.
For Team Penske it seemed at one point as though it really might be: Ryan Briscoe and Will Power landed okay, but found themselves without a team when they got there. "I need a fueler! ...and engineer, and some mechanics..." Briscoe tweeted as word came that the flights out of North Carolina were overbooked after the recent turbulent and deadly weather conditions through that part of the US. However, by Friday morning, Briscoe added that "a few Penske crew guys are starting to trickle in here this morning. Rain has stopped, sun is out, things are looking up!"
The relatively late start to the build-up and preparations is because the race weekend in Brazil is limited to just Saturday and Sunday running. That's partly because there is no Firestone Indy Lights support event to fit in, but mostly because the streets used for the race are in heavy use during a normal working week with an estimated 7 million vehicles in use in the city, and so racing is limited to the weekend to minimise disruption.
The schedule now sees practice sessions on Saturday morning from 8.30-9.45am local time (12.30-1.45pm BST) and 12.00-1.00pm (4.00-5.00pm) before qualifying from 3.00-4.15pm (7.00-8.15pm in the UK). On Sunday there is a half-hour warm up in the morning from 8.30-9.00am (12.30-13.00) before the race itself at 1.20pm (5.20pm in the UK where it is being screened on Sky Sports 4.)
The São Paulo weekday traffic has already caught the attention of the IndyCar drivers arriving in the city. "Cab nearly got whipped out already by a nutter in a VW polo ... feels like Sunday double file restarts already!" Mike Conway said on Twitter.
The traffic also contributed to the circuit's most distinctive feature on its inaugural appearance on the IndyCar calendar last year: the bone-jarring bumps. British driver Alex Lloyd, who raced here with Dale Coyne Racing last year, advised rookie driver JR Hildebrand "Hope you don't have too many fillings because they will all fall out at that place," in a worryingly accurate tweet last week.
The organisers are doing their best to address the problem. "The entire course has been paved, and unlike last year when we were really struggling with time this year it's been paved with the Interlagos mix so the pavement will hold up much better," said circuit designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting. He also pointed out the problem of working with such heavily used metropolitan streets, saying "It's a difficult thing. You pave and one hour later there are cars running on it. One day later you've had 30,000 cars travel over it."
The organisers also have to balance the track smoothness with the levels of grip: too bumpy and drivers lose their hold on the steering wheel and crash into the barriers, but too smooth and the track ends up too slippery and the cars crash anyway. For that reason, grooves have had to be ground into the concrete track in the permanent stadium section of the Anhembi Sambadrome, which last year was found to be too slippery.
The 2.6-mile (4.185km), 11-turn street course was first used by IndyCar in March 2010. The race is run over 75 laps amounting to 195 miles in total. The winner in 2010 - where it was the season opener in mid-March - was Will Power, ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti.
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