Friday, April 29, 2011

Sao Paulo Preview

First off, congrats to 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice for joining Panther Racing for the Indy 500! The more 500 winners in the field, the better! What a year it's going to be!

And so we come to the last race on the schedule before the Indy 500, the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 Presented By Nestle. Last year’s race was a wild, exciting charge, featuring a course full of rough bumps, solid passing areas, and some leader changes up front. This year, the track has been repaved to be a bit more uneven, but if we get close to the race we had last year, we’re in for a treat. Will Power would very much like to repeat as winner here, obviously, but with the way this season’s gone so far, very few results would surprise me. Let’s look at a few of the big storylines and aspects of IndyCar’s Jaunt To Brazil:

Homecoming: Helio Castroneves, Ana Beatriz, Vitor Meira, Tony Kanaan, and Rafa Matos are Indy’s current Brazilian crop of drivers. This should be a fun weekend for all of them, and ideally, they’ll perform well for their nation’s IndyCar fans this week. Meira placed third here last year, and now that he’s a new dad as well (congrats!), a win here would be extremely special indeed.

Start Status: As everyone remembers, last year’s race ended up with Mario Moraes’ car on top of Marco Andretti’s within the first 30 seconds of the race. Turn 1 has been expanded this year; we’ll see if this year’s start is a carnivale of cautions. Hopefully, we’ll also see a start this week that looks like a proper double-file and not a lurching, strung-out conga line.

TV Coverage: Poor Kevin Lee. He’s the Man on the Ground for Versus, and he’s going to have a lot of real estate to cover. Everyone else will be sitting comfortably back in the studio in the U.S.A., commenting on the action from their feed. This can at times make for a disjointed telecast, so if you’re hoping this is the week Versus irons out a few of those niggling production bumps, manage your expectations.

Who’s Legit?: Drivers such as Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani, Oriol Servia, Simona de Silvestro, Vitor Meira, and rookie James Hinchcliffe have been mixing it up with the traditional front-runners. The results this week could shed a little light on who really belongs consistently towards the front of the field. Given their performances thus far, I wouldn’t count out any of these guys.

Last year's Sao Paulo podium.
Andretti Autosport: What a mixed season for Andretti Autosport thus far. Plenty of incidents through the first three races, but Mike Conway gets his first series victory at Long Beach. Ryan Hunter-Reay (2nd) and Mike Conway (8th) were both very good at this track last year; RHR will try to make the sting of that mechanical failure at Long Beach go away just a little with a great result here. This race should be a good barometer of whether AA is back on track, or if the season struggles aren’t quite through.

Sebas Struggles: Sebastien Bourdais has had a horrific start to his partial season. Brazil will be his last chance to register a good result with Dale Coyne for awhile, because he won’t be competing at Indy or the other ovals on the schedule. It would be nice if he could grab a Top 10 to begin his hiatus on a bit of a positive note.

Viso Watch: You know the drill by now. Let’s see if he breaks the streak of incidents and has a clean weekend. For the record, he did finish here last year in (12th place).

Sato’s Progression: Taku managed to finish last week’s race a few laps down after an incident. Sato’s looked a lot better this week, so hopefully he can give his believers out there some more ammo with another great performance. I’m sure Dallara is hoping for the exact opposite result. Another incident this week, and those “same old Sato” cries will grow louder, fairly or no.

May Day!: After this race, expect everyone to shift hardcore into Indy 500 mode almost immediately. Performances thus far (even though we’re talking about twisty vs. oval) will be mercilessly dissected, and we know that we’ll probably see a few full-time drivers not make the field at Indy. In the battle for TEAM money, getting a good result wherever you can has the potential to really make the difference. That’s well ahead of where we are, but be warned: it’s coming.

Pole: Will Power

Win: Helio Castroneves. His funk can’t last all season, and I like him to break out here in a big way.

Check back with us on Monday for a recap of the weekend's action! And if you're following us on Twitter, we'll do another little contest this weekend!

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