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Indycar Preview: Sao Paulo Indy 300

3 Mins read

This has not been an easy off season to be an Indycar fan.

It feels like eons ago that Dario Franchitti crossed the finish line in Homestead to claim the 2009 title.

There have been teams shutting down, with Vision Racing closing its full time operation.

There have been outcries as the size of a cheque a driver can bring to a team time and again outweighs the talent they possess, a cause headlined by the plight of Graham Rahal, ousted from Newman/Haas/Lanigan after the loss of sponsor McDonalds, though he has now been handed a drive with Sarah Fisher Racing for two races.

Fans have even had to grimace as their sport was reduced to little more than a curio by the unveiling of the Deltawing design for a future chassis.

It feels like eons ago that Dario Franchitti crossed the finish line in Homestead to claim the 2009 title.

Yet despite all this there are still a commendable 24 cars on the entry list for the season opener in Sao Paulo this week.

The field tells the story of modern American open-wheel racing. The return to Brazil is explained by the dominant nationality of the field with seven Brazilians in the field, including a one-off race for Ana Beatriz. Compare that to five British drivers and, in the U.S.’s premier open-wheel series, only three Americans.

The recognised talent rubs shoulder with those whose talent (diplomatically) is still to be proved, with Venezuelan pair E.J. Viso and Milka Duno in full time rides with backing from state companies.

The 2.6mile street track, which includes a run through the 'Sambadrome', the heart of Sao Paulo's carnival, is one of two new venues on the calendar this year. The other is Alabama's Miller Motorsports Park with the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama taking place on April 11.

The new Sao Paulo track is ribbon of alarmingly narrow looking tarmac clad with walls in the mould of the more established Long Beach or Toronto races. The track also features an unusually off-set (and unusually long) pitlane that departs from the main track between turn four and five.

The track features three separate chicanes, including a left-right flick to start the lap that may as well have first lap pile-up emblazoned on the wall, while the eleventh and final turn, a right-hand hairpin named 'victory' should be the main overtaking spot, lying at the end of a back straight that comprises nearly a third of the lap.

As with all new tracks it has the potential to be a great leveller.

That should bring the series' growing army of road/street course specialists to the fore.

At the pre-season test at MMP it was the Penske team who dominated, the team unveiling their new livery and debuting their enlarged three car stable with the addition of Will Power to a full time seat after coming to the team last year as Castroneves-relief.

The team dominated the test, Ryan Briscoe topping day one before Will Power went faster on the second day, with Castroneves also amongst the top the drivers. However, Briscoe and Power are both accomplished road racers, having driven in the ALMS and Champcar respectively. That together with the might of Penske must install them as favourites for Sao Paulo.

However, the big surprise may be Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Alongside their fielding of Beatriz in Brazil will be their two full season drivers – Justin Wilson and Mike Conway. In the British pair they have two of the road/street course drivers in the series.

Wilson was one of the stories of last season, being the only man to snap the Penske and Ganassi domination with his win at Watkins Glen, and was the highest placed driver from outside the 'big two' at the test.

The final threat, if the Miller test is taken as a barometer, is Takuma Sato. The F1 refugee has been found a full season drive in KV Racing's flagship no.5 car, and with a well-stocked CV could be a contender at the any of the nine non-oval events if he can adapt quickly to the car.

Those nine races will be crucial in the season, oval races (with the introduction of Brazil and Miller and loss of Milwaukee) are in the minority for the first time in recent Indycar history. The order at the end of Sunday's 75 laps could give us a bigger clue to the final standings than a road race ever has before.

Could who ever stands in Victory Lane then be preparing for celebration come Homestead?

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