The IZOD IndyCar teams arrived in the largest city of Brazil for this weekend's race on the street circuit in São Paulo
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city proper in the southern hemisphere and the world's eighth largest city by population (11.3 million residents). It actually has the numbers edge over New York City at over two million more residents than the Big Apple. It also has something else that New York doesn't have: an IndyCar race, the São Paulo Indy 300.
The city fancies itself a South American Indianapolis, as Mayor Gilberto Kassab declared when the current race was announced in 2009. "The arrival of IndyCars reaffirms São Paulo’s position as host to major world events. It's a gift to our people who will be able to get close to big cars and drivers. It is also an important business opportunity for the city, which is establishing itself as capital of motor racing."
People from the city of São Paulo are known as Paulistanos, a fair number of whom will venture out to the racing circuit over the streets of the Santana district of the city and cheer their hometown favorites on Sunday. The city is the original home of two current IndyCar drivers: Helio Castroneves and Ana Beatriz. São Paulo is also the birthplace of the late racing legend Ayrton Senna, who alongside soccer's Pelé would count among the city and the country of Brazil's most beloved sports figures.
The São Paulo Indy 300 was first contested in 2010 and has traditionally been one of the richest events on the IndyCar schedule, with a generous six-figure prize money scheme to all-comers and expenses paid.
A pragmatist would be concerned about the weather in this part of the world: the city is infamous for its monsoon-like rainstorms, most of which occur in the Brazilian summer months of December through February. As a matter of fact, two of the last three São Paulo Indy 300 races (2010 and 2011) were impacted by heavy rain which either shortened or forced postponement of the event.
There's a good chance that it will rain at some point during the 2013 race's 192 mile length as well, if not stop the race entirely, should a brisk downpour develop. If and when the rain does come it will likely be a torrential downpour which creates a treacherous and unsafe circuit in seconds.
When it's dry the São Paulo Indy 300 circuit is very fast; and in all conditions it's very tight, especially through the chicane located at Turns One and Two. There are quick left-rights at Turns Three and Four, and at Turns Seven and Eight as well.
The course is also one of the best on the IndyCar schedule for overtaking and passing. There are long straights, like the Sambadrome straight along the back side of the course, with ample opportunity to move past slower drivers--even to pick up a draft in the wake of the leader. Speeds here may approach or exceed 190 mph (256 kph).
There's another interesting wrinkle to the lay-out of the 2.563 mile (4 kilometer) race course: the pits are located in an area away from the start-finish line just past Turn Four. It shares this distinct feature with the street course in Baltimore, MD.
The eleventh and final turn on the circuit is a right-hand "Victory" hair-pin that leads back onto the start/finish straight and requires the driver to carry as much speed as possible into a hard acceleration out of the corner.
Most competitors will hedge their bets with respect to the changeable weather, and choose a compromise set-up capable for both dry and wet-handling conditions. As a result, the initial choice of tire can be a major factor in the competition. And, of course, the cars will run plenty of down-force over the bumpy street course.
Most competitors will also plan on making two stops during the race for fuel and tires. A productive gambit can be to take a pit stop within the first 20 laps, especially if there's an early yellow flag in the race, and get off-cycle with the other teams' race strategy; because if it rains hard and the race is stopped you may find yourself in the first position while the favorites are trying to climb back up through the field.
On the other hand, if you guess wrong during the early stop about the weather and the race continues dry or nearly so without interruption, that early stop can be deadly to any hopes of a good finish.
Last year's IndyCar event was won by Team Penske's Will Power. Power led for 63 of 75 laps to best Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Motorsports and Takuma Sato (then of Rahal Letterman Racing). With Sato's recent Long Beach GP victory it's a good bet the three men on last year's podium will be up front in this year's São Paulo Indy 300 too.
If it rains modestly and the race goes to its full distance the advantage swings decidedly in favor of Foyt Racing's Japanese driver. Consider one important fact if you doubt this nugget of wisdom: Sato started next-to-last in the 2012 race's 26-car field, which was run under moist to dry conditions on the same weekend of the year, to take third.
If it rains hard the race is anybody's to win (or to lose). In deference to both American and Brazilian television coverage the event is time-limited to two and one half hours; thus, a significant delay for rain or an accident can play havoc with race strategy and handicapping the São Paulo Indy 300.