Into the Crystal Ball… The Sambadrome Edition

Welcome to May! Before we hit the famed Brickyard, there is one more stop to make: The Streets of Sao Paulo Brazil. Without a doubt, this track is a favorite of fans and drivers alike. Half of the circuit consists of standard, 90 degree street course turns without much in the way of elevation change. Not super spiffy or fantastic; we love this place for the longest straight on the schedule followed by a gnarly hairpin and a blast down the Sambadrome straight. All of this has led to intense action during the previous three trips with 2013 looking no different. Gaining momentum heading into Indy will be very important as it can often take trips to multiple venues to rebuild the composure of a rattled team.

Five things to watch

Turn 1/2 Complex – After four years of ridiculous traffic jams and fender benders that would end a race, NZR Consulting has finally reprofiled  the turn 1/2 complex. Most of the accordion crashes were caused by a simple lack of room from the exit of turn one through the exit of turn two; two cars would barely fit side-by-side. Drivers have been given an extra ten feet of track from curb to wall and the two corners have been made a bit quicker to help prevent the stack-ups that have become expected when racing in Brazil.

Downforce – The Sambadrome circuit has a back straight of nearly a mile; the perfect reason to take some chances with car set-up. Unlike the balance of the twistie season where you crank in as much downforce as possible, Brazil give teams the unique opportunity to run a bit less downforce to gain some straight line speed. Of course, the car would be a handful in the tight sections, but the gains could out weight the tire wear penalty. Midfield teams who have a setup and driver that is easier on the tires would be the perfect candidates to roll the dice on different aero configurations.

Turn 11 – What’s almost as good as a nearly one mile straight? Following it up with a tight hairpin. Said hairpin is the best passing zone on the track and possibly the best passing zone on the entire schedule. Decelerating from 190 mile per hour to about 60 in a few hundred feet on the bumpy street circuit is no easy task leading to quite a lot of action taking place in the final turn before the Sambadrome straight. Having a car that can make it cleanly and easily through this corner will be paramount. If a drivers setup is compromised in this turn, they’ll be losing positions here all day.

Tires – Firestone’s 2013 tire compounds have been a big hit with drivers and fans alike. The gap between the softer reds and harder blacks has been widened leading to tire strategies that have been more dynamic than we have even seen since adopting the two-compound program. This weekend, Firestone has elected to bring the 2012 compounds. I don’t understand the rationale behind throwing teams a curveball after they spent three races and spring training forming new setups and developmental paths tailored to the new tires.

Rain – The forecast looks mostly clear for the city over the weekend with the bulk of expected rain to move in on Monday. But this is Brazil we are talking about; the chance of precipitation is always present. Will any teams opt for a wet/dry split? I highly doubt it given the forecast, but we are still a few days out from raceday. If chances increase, this would be another area for the midfield teams to take a chance and pull out a shocker. And if it rained, those teams and engineers would look like geniuses.

 

Predictions

Pole – Dario Franchitti – The fantastic run he had in Long Beach will parlay itself into an even better weekend for Dario. And it all starts with the pole.

Winner – Takuma Sato – AJFE and Sato can absolutely repeat their Long Beach performance this weekend. Sato has been close to the win the past two years and has proven he can run clean and mean all day long.

Epic Performance – Dario Franchitti – His season got off to a rough start but the turn-around two weeks ago is something we haven’t really seen out of Franchitti since the adoption of the DW12. A top five would give him and the team a fair amount of momentum heading into Indy.

Biggest Loser - Will Power (?!) – After picking him for the win and pole two out of the previous three races, I think there may be something seriously wrong with the organization. Power has been plagued by inconsistency, bad luck and poor race strategy for nearly a year now. Anything but a win is not enough to erase the last year of hardship.

Helio leads the standings heading into the weekend while most of the would-be contenders have had a slow start. If the first three races are any indication, once the checkers fall the standing could look very different from anything we could have expected in March. There are many fresh, young faces finally getting their chance to shine, and journeymen drivers stepping into the respect and results they have been striving to achieve for many years. This particular street circuit has character and it produced great racing with the old chassis and even better racing with the new one. Regardless of championship implications, the annual trip to Brazil is always an extremely exciting time.

Eric Hall

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