Thursday, May 2, 2013

Track Walk: São Paulo 2013

IndyCar returns to South America for the fourth running of the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300. Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt Racing are the most recent winners as they look to make it two-in-a-row and take the points lead away from Brazilian Helio Castroneves. Will Power has won all three São Paulo Indy 300s, the last two have come from pole position.

The Points Standings
Helio Castroneves has been no worse than second in the points standings this season and, other than himself, everyone else has been all over the place. Before his win at Long Beach, Takuma Sato was tied for eleventh with Simona de Silvestro. He is now second. Since his win at St. Petersburg, James Hinchcliffe has gone from points leader to fifth to tenth after back-to-back twenty-sixth place finishes. Ryan Hunter-Reay has gone from eighteenth to third to sixth. Graham Rahal had electrical problems at St. Pete put him in thirteenth, running out of fuel at Barber knocked Rahal down to nineteenth but a second at Long Beach has pulled the Ohioan up to seventh in the standings.

Dario Franchitti is down in twentieth after two twenty-fifth place finishes and a fourth. EJ Viso was tenth in the standings before Long Beach but his twenty-second place finished dropped the Venezuelan to sixteenth. With only three drivers scoring a top ten in all three races (Castroneves, Andretti and Wilson) and only two drivers scoring multiple top fives (Castroneves and Dixon) this season, one good result at São Paulo could be a lofty step up for a driver heading to Indianapolis.

Brazilians at Home
Only once in three São Paulo races has a Brazilian taken a step on the podium, that was Vitor Meira in the inaugural São Paulo race in 2010. Tony Kanaan's best finish was a tenth in 2010. Castroneves finished fourth last year with Rubens Barrichello scoring a tenth, a big improvement for the Brazilians after none of five Brazilians finished in the top ten in the 2011 São Paulo Indy 300. Meira was the only Brazilian in 2011 to finish better than twentieth. Meira finished seventeenth. Ana Beatriz's best finish at São Paulo was a thirteenth in 2010.

The Brazilians don't have much better luck with starting positions in their home country. Kanaan has the best starting position for a Brazilian at São Paulo, a sixth in 2010. Helio Castroneves is the only Brazilian to start twice in the top ten, a ninth in 2010 and a seventh in 2011. Last year, the best starting Brazilian was Kanaan in eleventh.

Will Power's Dominance
Of the 191 laps run in the three São Paulo Indy 300s, Will Power has led 99 of them or 51.83%. Power has two poles with his worst starting position being a fifth. Of the twelve drivers who have run all three São Paulo races, only Dario Franchitti (5.333) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (7.333) average a top ten finish. It may be a year since Power's last win but there is no doubting the Australians dominance in Brazil.

Other Notes
Turn two at São Paulo has be widened by ten feet in hopes to improve passing on double-file restarts. The curbing in turns one and two was also modified and bumps in turn tenth were smoothened.

While not heading to São Paulo, Indy Lights are testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today.

Weather forecast for this weekend in São Paulo calls for a high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday with a zero percent chance of rain and a high of 79 degrees Fahrenheit with a ten percent chance of rain on Sunday.

Track record at São Paulo was set last year by Will Power. He put down a lap of 1:21.4045.

IndyCar hits the track for the first time on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET. Second practice will be at 11:05 a.m. ET and qualifying will start at 1:35 p.m. ET. Morning warm-up on Sunday will be at 7:00 a.m. with NBC coverage beginning at 11:00 a.m. and green flag at 11:30 a.m.

I will admit, picking a winner for IndyCar races has never been tougher. One moment you think you are on to something and then all of a sudden your picks make you look foolish.

Rain tires will be used at some point this weekend. A Brazilian will get a top ten. We will see a fourth different winner in the first four races of 2013 and fifth different winner in the last five races going back to the 2012 finale. Takuma Sato will get a top ten. James Hinchcliffe turns around his unfortunate run and will finish better than twenty-sixth (mostly because only twenty-five cars are entered for São Paulo). Justin Wilson will continue his streak of top ten finishes. Will Power will be the top finishing Penske... but I don't see him getting his fourth consecutive win in São Paulo.

Winning four consecutive races at the same track doesn't happen often, let alone winning the first four races at one track. But who else would be a good choice? Ryan Hunter-Reay? Scott Dixon is always quick but his track record on street courses is not good. Simon Pagenaud hasn't had the same form he showed at the beginning of 2012. This grid is deep but inconsistent. I will take Justin Wilson. Sleeper: Simona de Silvestro.