Power hoping Brazil a good restart
The month of May arrived in central Indiana with sunny skies and the soundtrack of racing engines.
But the noise emanating from Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week came from Gen-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup stock cars, in town for a Goodyear tire test in preparation for July's Brickyard 400.
Meanwhile, the cars of the IZOD IndyCar Series were on a freight plane taking a 5,000-mile journey to Brazil, where the fourth annual Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 will be staged on Sunday.
The three Sao Paulo IndyCar races to date have been swept by Team Penske's Will Power. Last season's victory on the 2.536-mile Anhembi street circuit was the third of the 2012 season for the Australian, all coming in a row.
But remarkably, that win on April 29 of last year was Power's last prior before a winless streak of 14 races. The 45-point lead in the point standings he took home from Brazil gradually got whittled away during the remainder of the 2012 season and he watched the IndyCar Series championship slip away in the final race for the third consecutive season, this time to Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay.
This season has gotten off to a rough start for Power. He was involved in incidents not of his own making at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, bracketing 16th-place finishes in those races around a challenging run to fifth at Barber Motorsports Park.
He lies eighth in the standings, 37 points behind the leading pace set by his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. But three rounds into a 19-race championship, it's too early to panic.
"We've had the speed, we just need to get into a rhythm and put a full weekend together to come out with some solid points," Power said. "I am really looking forward to going to Brazil; it is a great circuit and a place where we've had some success in the past."
Last season, Power won from the front after leading the most laps. But he's aware that among IndyCar's street courses, Sao Paulo is the one place where a driver can recover from the back of the field.
"I think Brazil has the most places to pass of anywhere we go," he said. "It's a long lap with a lot of corners, so it's a real driver's track -- and a real racer's track. I think it produces probably some of the best racing we have. When it rained the last couple of years, we had no problem running. It was good for me in the wet -- I didn't mind it at all!"
Last season, Hunter-Reay finished a close second to Power in a preview of their championship battle down the stretch. But the star of the show was Takuma Sato, who overcame an engine change grid penalty and a pit lane speed violation to drive his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry from 25th to third and his first visit to an IndyCar podium.
He was also extremely competitive in Brazil in 2011, leading laps in the rain. Now, Sato arrives in Brazil on the heels of his first IndyCar race win, achieved for A.J. Foyt Racing two weeks ago at Long Beach. With his confidence boosted, the Japanese ace is likely to be a frontrunner again this weekend.
"It's just that the team has been working so well with me," Sato said. "We've been making the ABC Supply car fast very successfully most of times. Even if we struggled at some stage in the practice sessions, we always came back strongly in qualifying so I can commit 100 percent all the time."
Sato's win at Long Beach led a 1-2-3-4 finish for Honda, which had not matched up well against rival Chevrolet in the first two races of the season, won by Andretti's James Hinchcliffe (St. Petersburg) and Hunter-Reay (Barber).
Although he hasn't won a race this season, Castroneves leads the standings on the strength of consistency. He's looking to become the first Brazilian to win an Indy car race on home soil since Andre Ribeiro won a CART-sanctioned event in Rio de Janeiro in 1996.
Oreovicz: A landmark victory
Takuma Sato's historic victory in Long Beach should not have surprised. Fact is, the diminutive driver from Japan has been closing in on his first IndyCar win for some time , writes John Oreovicz. Story
Fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan hopes to reach a personal milestone with his 200th consecutive start, a streak dating to June 2001 when he raced in the CART-sanctioned series.
Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of the KV Racing Technology team that Kanaan drives for, is the only other driver to make 200 consecutive starts.
"People tell me it's a big number, and I think it's 260 if counted all together," Kanaan said. "I rarely pay attention to numbers or records, but I'm pretty happy with this one. You don't get to 200 races by accident, and I have a lot of racing left in me."
But Kanaan's start streak is in jeopardy because he will attempt to race with three torn ligaments in his right hand, the result of a crash with Oriol Servia at Long Beach. Although the injury does not require surgery, doctors have told the Brazilian it could take up to eight months to fully heal.
"It's going to hurt, and I'll only know if I'll be able to drive after the first practice on Saturday morning," Kanaan told reporters in Brazil this week. "But, being Brazil, I know that I will have to suck it up."
Kanaan was pleased to see modifications to the Anhembi street course, with changes to the curbing in Turns 1 and 2 that should ease the pounding received by the drivers' hands.
"Turn 2 is about 10 feet wider now, and the curbs that are there have been lowered, so the corner will be quicker, without question," course architect Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting said. "The goal was to help improve things for double-file restarts and particularly in the rain. We've seen how difficult it can be."
Inclement weather is not expected to be a factor in this weekend's activities.
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