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Preview: teams and drivers head to Brazil

29 April 2011

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.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Power was one of the few drivers not complaining about the track surface after last year's outing: "It added to the character how rough the surface was," he said. "The main thing is how good the racing was."

Track layout - São Paulo street race


The race starts in the Sambadrome before hitting four turns in quick succession - which might prove particularly interesting in double-file restart situations. Turns 1 and 2 are grouped together as the S do Samba (the Esses of Samba), while turns 3 and 4 form the Curva da Base Aérea (Air Base Corner.) Then there is a short straight along the Avenue Olavo Fontoura before the ninety degree right hander turn 5, the Curva do Anhembi in the Pavilion Expo Park, followed by another right hander at turn 6, the Curva 14 Bis. These corners, together with turn 7 (the Curva do Pavilhão, or Pavilion Corner), turn 8 (the Curva Espéria and turn 9 (the Curva das docas, or Curve of the Docks) follow the rigid grid street layout leading up to the Exposition Pavillion.) The organisers have been at work removing the street curbs around several of the corners in this section of the track.

Turn 10 (the Curva Tietê) is a right hander that leads onto the circuit's signature feature, the mile-long backstretch along the Reta dos Bandeirantes (Flagholders Straight) that runs along the side of the Tietê river that terminates in the vicious turn 11 Curva da Vitória hairpin that slingshots the cars back into the Anhembi Sambadrome and the start/finish line.

“Every circuit should be built with a massive straight like that," said Power after his win from the third row last year. "I think it's great and the reason is you can pass."

There were 93 passes during the 2010 race, and with the added spice of double file restarts to contend with as well this year, the race should certainly prove to be interesting and eventful.

There will be five Brazilian drivers on the grid at São Paulo: Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Ana Beatriz, Raphael Matos and Vitor Meira. Meira had a particularly successful outing here last year, climbing 13 places to finish third, the highest of all the Brazilian drivers in the 2010 race. This year he's got even more to smile about coming into his home event, as he's also celebrating the arrival of his daughter Juliana on Easter Sunday morning. Further extra significance is added to the event by the date of the race - May 1 - being the 17th anniversary of the death of São Paulo local hero and motorsport legend Aryton Senna at Imola in 1994.

It was also announced that IndyCr may be making two flyaway trips to Brazil in 2012. As well as retaining the traditional São Paulo event in its new spot in April just before the Indy 500 build-up, the series may also be holding a second event later in the year in September, on the streets of Porto Alegre in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Municipal and state representatives delivered a letter of intent to IndyCar's CEO Randy Bernard that they were seeking proper funding to host the Grand Prix Mercosur (a Portuguese translation of "free market") in the fourth largest metropolitan area in Brazil of 1.4 million inhabitants, located close to the borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

The event may replace Motegi on the calendar, after it was announced earlier this year that the Japanese circuit was to hold its last IndyCar race this September.


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