IndyCar took a fan poll last year. Actually, they had a firm do it--people who specialize in creating, performing and interpreting poll numbers--to find out what race-loving boys and girls really, really want.
Among the things that IndyCar fans are said to want to experience, and that the series shared with the public, were 1) fast cars, 2) on-track excitement and 3) more road and street circuits.
The Sao Paulo Indy 300 may epitomize what IndyCar fans were looking for as well as any venue on the schedule. Today's results from qualifying, where the track record was amended four times over the course of the day, provide the kind of rail-grabbing, rubber-necking drama that fans say they want from American open-wheel racing.
Ryan Hunter-Reay in the red and yellow Andretti Autosport car emerged from the day as the pole-sitter and owner of a time of 1 minute, 20.4312 seconds, a new track record set in the last lap of the Fast Six qualifications period. Prior to Hunter-Reay's quick trip the record was reset by, in order, Will Power of Team Penske, Hunter-Reay, and Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti.
Brazilians are nuts about car-racing. They turn out in droves anyway, so the treat of fast cars setting and re-setting the Anhembi layout's mark had to be icing on the cake for the speed-obsessed Paulistanos in the stands.
Looking at a diagrammed map of the 2.6 mile street circuit doesn't serve justice to the wicked and sinister left-right turns that spice up the first half of the race course. One pair of these tricky wrist-twisters is nick-named "The Esses of Samba" though looking ahead at them from the seat of the Dallara DW12 they more resemble Slim Shady's shadow.
Drivers say the first turn at Indy is like coming down your neighborhood street at 100 mph and turning left into your driveway. These "Esses" look like you're setting up to leap through the keyhole in the garage door.
The rest of the course is fast and long, with a single wicked hair-pin leading onto the start/finish straightaway offering significant braking down to around 30 mph. As Hunter-Reay said afterwards, "Starting on pole here is a challenge because you're a sitting duck out there on those long straights."
Not all of the drama trackside today revolved around Hunter-Reay's efforts. As has become an all-too-often occurrence for Power (who coincidentally has won all three prior races on this track), he was left luckless by a James Jakes accident that prevented a truly brisk, tires warm run at the pole. The result is a back-of-the pack start in the twenty-second of twenty-five spots on the grid.
"This is typical (of racing)," he said. "You can't always have everything go your way. It does bother you when you've had a legit chance (at pole) and something hinders it. You can't dwell on it, you just have to keep plugging away."