A bright, sunny day in Sao Paulo drew a decent crowd for the opening day of the IZOD IndyCar Series weekend, with locals enduring the massive traffic jams to check out their seven compatriots tackling IndyCar's finest on the streets of the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere. As the first practice session of the weekend kicked off – there was no on-track action on Friday, as a way to minimize the event's impact on Sao Paulo traffic – the grandstands were filled to about 40 percent capacity.
Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Ana Beatriz (or Bia Figueiredo, as she's known in her home country) draw the most attention from the fans. TK was the best of the Brazilian roster in the first practice session, taking third, while Helio had to settle for eighth. Beatriz, making her IndyCar debut, seemed to struggle and could only outpace Milka Duno, ending up nearly six seconds behind the leader, Scott Dixon. Another female rookie, Simona de Silvestro, impressed on the 12th spot for HVM Racing.
It was a tough beginning for Conquest's Mario Romancini, though, who clipped the wall and ruined his right-rear suspension. “I just lost control over the bumps,” said the Indy Lights graduate. Milka Duno also had a minor run-in against the barriers, while Dario Franchitti caused a yellow when he spun harmlessly.
Saturday's sun is not expected to last, however – the forecast for race time Sunday is for rain... Mixed reactions to track
After the first practice, Tony Kanaan was the most vocal driver about what most of the field perceived as a too bumpy surface on the streets of Sao Paulo.
“It's simply too bumpy; it's nearly impossible to keep the car in a straight line in some sections,” said the Andretti Autosport driver, who singled out track designer Tony Cotman for criticism. “Several drivers complained to Cotman and asked for changes, but he was intransigent about it. I guess he never raced a car down a bumpy road like this…”
Kanaan also complained about the Sambadrome section, which was repaved especially for the race – for Carnival, the surface is painted on a light color for better contrast on TV, and this paint has been removed for the Sao Paulo Indy 300.
“It's just impossible to floor the gas there," he said. "There's not enough grip, even in a straight line.”
Another complaint came from Luczo Dragon team co-owner Gil de Ferran, who reported that his driver Raphael Matos was struggling on the curbs. “They are just too short at some points”, de Ferran said. “The car is still turning when it falls off the curb on some turns, which increases the possibility of a driver losing control.” Fans excited, but confused
Brazilians love racing, that's a given, but their knowledge can be limited sometimes, especially in the case of the first fan interviewed this morning by Radio Bandeirantes, the event's official broadcaster. “Being so close to these Formula 1 cars is just amazing,” said the interviewee, holding what looked like his third can of malt liquor of the morning.