By Jeff Olson
Ana Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo – better known to American race fans as Ana Beatriz, better known to friends as Bia – burst on the Firestone Indy Lights scene in 2008, when she finished third in the final driver standings and won at Nashville for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. This year has had its moments for the 24-year-old Brazilian, with a victory at Iowa and a podium at Kentucky, but also included a bad crash at Indianapolis that kept her from competing in a race the following week in Milwaukee. Before the crash, Beatriz was in the mix for the drivers' championship. Afterward, her title chances were all but dashed.
Still, she remains confident that a move to the IndyCar Series is in her future, possibly the very near future. She's gaining ground in results and recognition, and she's surrounded herself with a talented management team that includes former CART driver Andre Ribeiro, former F3 team owner Augusto Cesario and former Honda Performance Development boss Robert Clarke, who's also guiding Tony Kanaan's career. But landing an IndyCar ride won't be easy for Bia: Very few FIL drivers have made the leap in recent years – fewer still without a Lights championship. Add to that a rough economy, and it's an uphill climb. Nevertheless, Beatriz remains upbeat. She sat down with RACER.com to discuss recent developments.
Q. You've indicated in the past that you want to move up to the IndyCar Series quickly, perhaps as early as next year. Where does that stand at this point in time?
Ana Beatriz: I'm always thinking about it. I wish I were a little bit better in the championship standings to give us more negotiating power to help make it happen, but Andre Ribeiro and Cesario and Robert Clarke have been thinking about it. We haven't decided anything yet, but we're looking at opportunities and understanding what's going to be better for me, and we're waiting to see how the last race turns out. We improved a lot at Sonoma – we hadn't done very well on road courses this season until that race – so that gave us some energy. If we can do well at Homestead, it might help us decide.
Q. So it's promising?
AB: We'll see. It's my second year of Indy Lights, and we'll have a race in Brazil next year that might help us to move up, but we can also see the advantages to staying a third year in Indy Lights. Once the season ends, I think we'll be able to see a really clear idea of what position we're going to work toward.
Q. What's your assessment of the season so far? Obviously there's been some success, but also some disappointment. Overall, does it meet your expectations?
AB: I'm a little bit disappointed. I thought we would be regularly in the top five at all types of tracks – road courses and street courses and ovals. This didn't happen. We had some bad crashes, too. The crash at Indianapolis really set us back in the standings, but we also had some great runs – some podiums and the win at IowAB: This was very good. But I wish I could have had better results. I really expected to be fighting for the championship at this point.
Q. Could you have been in contention had you not missed races?
AB: I don't think so. Crashing at Indy cost us two races and didn't help. But to compete with J.R. (Hildebrand) and (Sebastian) Saavedra and the AFS guys, we needed to take a different approach to start with.
Q. How bad was the crash at Indy? You appeared to be OK after the race, but were there any lingering problems?
AB: That day I wasn't feeling very well. My knee hurt and I couldn't do much exercising that required bending of the knee for about a month after that. My elbow hurt, too, and you can see the scar on my chin. The psychological part of it was harder. Healthy Choice had paid for the season, but we weren't expecting that bad of crash damage. We had to buy a completely new car, so we had to work to get that money. This was a bad thing, but we got some positive from it. I got to meet a lot of people from a lot of different companies both here and in Brazil, so that could help us in the future. I was able to find something positive from a crash as bad as that one.
Q. So the absence from Milwaukee was due to financial reasons and not the injuries?
AB: Yes. We didn't have a car. We didn't have the time to build another car, and the one we had wasn't fixable, so we missed the race.
Q. You didn't have enough in the crash budget and you had to go out and raise money to get another car? That's a hard thing to do.
AB: Yes, definitely, especially in the middle of this economic crisis.
Q. Was there a time when you didn't know if it would happen?
AB: We talked about a lot of things. Andre, Cesario and Robert and I wondered what we should do. Should we step back and wait for next year? But Andre put some personal money into the program to make it happen, to help buy the new car. It was amazing, because when we returned at Iowa, we won the race. It was fantastic.
Q. You seem to have made a name for yourself on ovals, yet that's not your background.
AB: Usually I do well on almost every oval, except for the beginning of the year. At Kansas we were running second until I lost the rear end and almost crashed and finished fourth, and of course Indy wasn't a good weekend. But usually on ovals we run strong. At Kentucky we led the race and finished third. I don't know what it is. I've found my way on ovals. I just need to improve on road courses – that's my background. I really push myself hard because I can't understand some of the results we've had this year on road courses.
Q. Often for drivers from Europe or South America who have a classical road-racing background, the oval racing here is the most difficult part of the equation. You seem to have gotten a feel for it fairly quickly. Does that surprise you at all?
AB: I didn't know what to expect when I came to America, but with a lot of data and background help, I began to understand the ovals. I was able to get the small details that make a difference. It was a great thing. I didn't know what to expect from ovals when I first came here. Fortunately I found it.