Into The Crystal Ball… The Sambadrome Edition

I. Love. Brazil. This has been my favorite twistie race the past two years. The track layout has been absolutely perfect for indycar racing in the past and it’s going to be very exciting to see how the street fighter DW12 handles the long, blasting straights of the Sambadrome circuit. It looks to be yet another soggy weekend which is always fun for the fans but I would really like to see a strong weekend of dry running to see the true potential of the track. The previous two years were both rain affected and we still haven’t seen what type of real dry weather racing this facility has to offer. The question of the weekend will be: can Honda not suck? New turbo or not these are the longest straights on a street circuit we will see all year, advantage Honda? For the second race in a row they have no excuses not to perform; can Will Power continue to bring the hurt?

Five Things to Watch

Bumps no more - Indycar’s Brazilian home has continued the trend of improving its circuit each year with a few more minor modifications. Tony Cotman and his NZR Consulting firm have smoothed out a few bumps; most notably the doozy right at the start of the T1 braking zone. The past two years, wet or dry, this area has proved to be a trouble spot for drivers. A cascading situation is encountered in the wet when a driver hits this massive bump, loses control and slides across the skating rink that is the painted run off area in the turn one complex. This very painted area was another area that has seen some modifications as well to somehow reduce the slipperiness of the area. All sound like good changes that should enhance the racing. If Sao Paulo continues this trend it could become the premier street circuit in the western hemisphere.

Turbogate - On Thursday, INDYCAR held a hearing on the legality of Honda’s attempted turbo switch. The engine manufacturer is trying to upgrade its turbocharger housing to help the engine find a bit of the low end grunt it has been missing off the corners. Its a case of he-said-she-said whose outcome will definitely hurt one of the engine makers feelings. Honda has brought both turbo specifications to Brazil and is ready to run either one depending on the outcome of the hearing. Three races in and I’m still not convinced that Honda needs help in the engine department. I would really like to see how well the Honda lumps handle the high speed Sambadrome circuit with its mile plus long back straight. I think I say it every week but I think the Honda teams are still a bit lost on setup. If the turbo switch is approved, I hope the league waits until June to make the change; when engine equalization was supposed to happen in the first place.

Lotus - The venerable sorry-excuse-of-a-beneficiary-funding-a-boutique-engine-maker-with-not-enough-money “engine manufacturer” seems intent on totally driving its program into the ground. After putting up no fight whatsoever to keep BHA and DRR withing its stable they attempt to spin the news in a positive light. This situation is becoming totally unacceptable and the remaining teams of HVM and Dragon are saddled with the unenviable task of shouldering the entire Lotus burden. At this point in the game my only hope for the poor drivers strapped to this thing is to simply finish while having a nice quiet, possibly painfully slow race. The infamous backstraight will punish the Lotus teams all weekend long and it won’t be pretty for any of us to watch.

Rain - It has rained at all three race weekends before we have even arrived in Brazil for the third time. The previous two editions were hampered by rain and it seems that the indycar paddock has a propensity to bring rain wherever they go. Admittedly, the Firestone rubber is not the best wet tire in the world, but it gets the job done. NZR has addressed drainage in multiple areas of the track to minimize the potential for standing water. It looks like we are going to have rain all day on Saturday, through the over night with spotty storms on Sunday. Teams have avoided running in the rain up until now because we have had three dry racedays, but I think we will finally see some aggressive rain practicing and qualifying on Saturday. I am pumped to see the DW12’s turn some true angry laps in soggy conditions. Once again, it looks to be a learning weekend for everyone.

Will Power – The unstoppable Australian has the early strangle hold entering the fourth race of the season; holding a 24 point advantage over second. That’s two more than the 22 points second place Helio Castroneves holds over sixth place Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power is on a tear to give the Captain his first championship win since 2006 and looks to be nearly unstoppable. This is important as we enter a string of four oval races; broken only by the Detroit Grand Prix the week after the Indy 500. Power did win the second race at Texas last year; the one he drew the pole position for, but he still has a ways to go to convince me he is an oval winner. He can really put a gap on the field this weekend in Brazil, and really needs to considering what he is about to embark on in the next few weeks.

Predictions

Pole - Tony Kanaan – Surprising everyone, it will be KV racing who breaks up the Penske domination in qualifying. A pole would be just the thing to kick start a reasonably tough year for the Brazilian hero.

Winner – Scott Dixon – Honda’s only consistent performer will be the first one to take the top step for the beleaguered Japanese manufacture. The Iceman Cometh.

Epic performer - Rubens Barrichello – Rubens has publicly admitted that he doesn’t think top tens are a reasonable expectation at this point in the season. Its amazing what racing in your hometown can do for you. I expect the added local support to really give RB a boost of confident that is parlayed into a quality result.

Biggest loser - Honda – A MUST win weekend. No question, no more said.

It’s hard not to worry what kind of precident turbogate is starting regarding how the rules and technical regulations are interpreted; this is the kind of problem that has plagued American open wheel racing for much of its history. But we get a weekend of pure awesomeness. A weekend at a track designedfor indycars at a track that is practically sold out in the largest city in Brazil filled with the some of the most rabid motorsports fans in the world… I cant think of a better way to end the first quarter of the season. Indycar and Brazil just seem to fit in a way that few markets have embraced our beloved sport. Benvindo ao Brasil.

Eric Hall

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