Brazil gears up to welcome native son Rubens Barrichello

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Thursday, March 23, 2000 - A sellout crowd will fill the grandstands March 26 in the hopes of seeing hometown hero Rubens Barrichello win the Brazilian Grand Prix. "I was born here!" Barrichello said. "Near the circuit!...

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Thursday, March 23, 2000 - A sellout crowd will fill the grandstands March 26 in the hopes of seeing hometown hero Rubens Barrichello win the Brazilian Grand Prix. "I was born here!" Barrichello said. "Near the circuit! I was probably only 6 years old when my grandfather gave me my first go-kart. He used to live just outside that (Turn 1) grandstand. So I have lived all my life here. During my first four years in school I studied in Interlagos. "As I was telling Michael (Schumacher), sometimes where I wave to somebody in the grandstand, it is not because he is a fan but because he is a friend. I might remember him from school or something. "I am really close to the public here. I am an Interlagos guy." Interlagos is the Sao Paulo suburb that plays host to the Brazilian Grand Prix at a track called the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, named after the ace Brazilian Formula One driver who died in an airplane crash in 1977. The track is also known as Interlagos, which is Portuguese for "between the lakes." The F1 season opened two weeks ago in Australia, where Michael Schumacher and Barrichello finished first and second, respectively, in their Ferraris. That marked the 47th time Ferraris have finished one-two in a Grand Prix, but it was the first time since Ferraris have swept the top two places in a season opener since Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi took first and second in the 1953 Argentine Grand Prix. For Barrichello, who has yet to score his first Grand Prix victory, a win at home on Sunday would be a dream come true. He has raced in the Grand Prix here seven times and led for 23 laps last year, but his only finish was a fourth in 1994. "In 1994," Barrichello recalled, "where I had a terrible qualifying and the race just came my way with fourth place. In 1996 I was fighting Michael (Schumacher) when I spun off, and last year there were engine problems. I find myself fighting myself here, and reliability." But this year Barrichello enters the race with a competitive car and with a strong mental attitude. "Coming here to my home race," Barrichello said, "I think I have improved both as a man and as a driver. It works my way now. It really helps to see my own public here at my own circuit. When people ask me about the pressure (of racing with Ferrari in Brazil), I can honestly say that it's actually less than ever before. "In the past I was trying to do exactly what I am trying to do now, but the difference is that now I have a competitive car. That equalizes the pressure and the performance. It used to be much more difficult to be trying to do something without the right car in which to do it." Barrichello's teammate, Schumacher, has a superb finishing record in his eight races in Brazil. He has won the race twice, finished second once, third four times and fifth once. Having Barrichello as the center of attention for the particular race is OK with Schumacher. "It's good, because he does all the work!" Schumacher said. "He is the focus of the local people, and that allows me to get on with my work. I think he is good enough to win by himself: He doesn't need any help from me." As in Australia, the Ferrari team is expecting its main competition to again be West McLaren-Mercedes drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. Both McLaren drivers retired from the Australian Grand Prix with engine problems. Schumacher believes that this is the closest Ferrari has been to McLaren at the start of the season for several years. "We are there," Schumacher said. "We are competitive. It was one of our targets to be there right from the beginning, and I believe we have fulfilled that. But we haven't overtaken the McLarens. You can't expect that, because they have done as good a job as we wanted to do. But in recent years we weren't able to get close to McLaren in the early stages of the season. This is the first year we have been competitive right from the beginning." Hakkinen is hoping to win in Brazil. He won the Brazilian Grand Prix last year and went on to win the World Championship. The last six consecutive winners of the Brazilian Grand Prix have gone on to win the championship. Sunday's capacity crowd will number 62,000 fans. The organizers have added 10,000 grandstand seats since last year. "The people here are just as excited about this race as I am," Barrichello said. "This is one of the few circuits where we can overtake, so I think you will see a good show this weekend."

FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK

Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Brazilian Grand Prix live on Speedvision or FOX Sports Net at 11:30 a.m. (EST) March 26. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 11 a.m. (EST) on March 25.

Around the world: By the time the second race of the F1 season is over, the team's cars and equipment will have been all the way around the world. Starting in Europe, three Boeing 747 freight aircraft flew everything southeast to Australia for the season opener. From there the equipment was flown east to Brazil. After this race, the final leg of the journey will take the cars northeast back to Europe to complete their world tour. Sauber's cargo consisted of three cars, a spare monocoque and 19.5 tons of spares and equipment packed into 87 flight cases. While most of the team's top management headed back to Europe between the two races, many of the drivers went home or to a vacation spot during the break. Jacques Villeneuve, Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine all went to Miami. Most the mechanics, meanwhile, made a round-the-world trip. They had to face a series of grueling flights from Europe to Singapore to Australia to Los Angeles to Brazil and back to Europe. Testing continues: Several teams, including Jaguar, Williams-BMW and Gauloises Prost-Peugeot, went testing back in England between the two races. Villeneuve aiming for points: After finishing fourth in the Australian Grand Prix, Jacques Villeneuve is aiming to finish in the points in Brazil in his Lucky Strike British American Racing-Honda even though the cars needs improvement. "The car is definitely not quick enough," Villeneuve said. "In Australia, we had a perfect setup on the chassis. We definitely need more downforce. But we have some new things coming for (the British Grand Prix at) Silverstone, both on the engine and the aerodynamics, so things are looking good. "I still hope we can do as well as we did in Melbourne. There is no reason to think that rival teams will have found any extra reliability since then, at least not until we go back to Europe. I am hoping that we will see the same things happen here that we saw in Melbourne. That would be nice." Track smoother: The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace is renowned for its bumpy surface. The bumps, along with the humidity, heat and chance of sudden rainstorms, combine to make the Brazilian Grand Prix a grueling and challenging race. The organizers have resurfaced the track. "It's less bumpy than before, but not 100 percent,' BAR driver Ricardo Zonta said. "There are still some slow and medium-fast corners with bumps. It is on the straights that the surface has been improved most. Let's say the circuit is 70 percent better than last year."

IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Johnny Herbert , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Ricardo Zonta , Alberto Ascari
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing