Everyone agreed that the organisers of the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 had done a wonderful job sorting out the street circuit after inevitable glitches in its inaugural run in 2010, with the repaving judged a big success. The only other complaint from last year was the weather, and the organisers couldn't do anything about that - as 2011 was about to prove in spades.
Shortly before the scheduled race start time at 1.20pm local time, the rain arrived - and in typical São Paulo style, this wasn't just a little shower but something more akin to a monsoon. Fortunately it was short-lived, the rain eased off to a mild drizzle, the water started to drain away from the street surfaces, and the race started on time as scheduled.
It ran straight into problems at the first corner: Will Power was through safely in the lead followed by Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, but Ryan Hunter-Reay starting from second place lost traction and found himself unable to make the corner, choosing instead to cut the chicane entirely. Unfortunately the painted surface of the chicane was covered in standing water, and he wasn't able to negotiate the tyre barriers at speed and ended up ploughing straight into one, wrecking the front nose and wing.
There was more mayhem happening back in the first corner: Dario Franchitti ran deep into the first turn, the Esses of Samba, and squeezed Helio Castroneves. Helio would not back down but then ran out of room and made contact with the outside wall, coming to a crunching halt that made him an immediate blockage to those coming through the corner on that side of the track behind him.
Simona de Silvestro was first to arrive and went straight into him; then seconds later, Danica Patrick was on scene, her front nose sliding underneath de Silvestro's #78 and raising it right off the ground, while the impact pivoted Danica round so that the rear end of her #7 slewed round onto the track and made contact with Tony Kanaan, who had been starting from 21st position after being handed a penalty for an illegal front wing change during qualifying.
Everyone was okay from these incidents - Kanaan looked most wounded, the impact with Patrick having given him a nasty bruise to his thumb, but not enough to stop him wanting to get back in the car if the suspension damage could be repaired in time.
After all the cars were cleared up, the first double file restart attempt of the afternoon was made on lap 5: once again Power took it calmly and had no problems, but when Scott Dixon tried to put the power down gently coming out of turn 2 he immediately went into a spin. Cars further back found the situation similarly treachorous, and Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais all went for spins. There was an interesting reversal of position for Dario Franchitti, who found himself on the inside line this time as Mike Conway went deep into turn 1; but Dario had learned quickly, and rather than suffer Helio's fate from the original start he opted to back off, yield the position and live to fight another day.
Things were rapidly going from bad to worse. The rain picked up again and within minutes it had gone through downpour, past torrential, and somewhere into Biblical proportions. At this point not only were there too many incidents to even attempt to keep track of, most of them couldn't even be seen anymore as the water spray and deteriorating light completely obscured the cars from the TV cameras, spectactors - and from the drivers themselves, with glimpses of Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Vitor Meira and others all hitting problems and spinning into the barriers at various parts of the flooding circuit.
They were running blind and it was now beyond dangerous, so a red flag was inevitable by lap 9, the cars lining up in race order in pit lane: Power, Briscoe, Conway, Rahal, Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia forming the top ten at the stoppage.