Qualifying for the IndyCar season opener in Sao Paulo has been postponed until Sunday morning to allow work to be carried out on the track surface.
The concrete sections of the new street track proved particularly troublesome in practice, with drivers struggling to get the power down on the bumps and extremely slippery surface. The issue was at its worst on the pit straight, where both Ryan Briscoe and Ana Beatriz spun into the wall in the second practice session today while trying to keep their cars straight.
"It was the right thing to do," said Penske man Helio Castroneves of the postponement. "The cars are just undrivable on the Sambadrome."
An additional hour-long practice session took place this afternoon in place of the scheduled qualifying, which was headed by Penske's Will Power. After that session, diamond grinding was scheduled for the main straight in an effort to solve the problems.The usual three-round IndyCar street course qualifying session will then run at 8:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, after another short practice to test the track repairs. Ganassi's Scott Dixon was fastest in both practice sessions earlier today, ahead of Briscoe (Penske) and Tony Kanaan (Andretti Autosport).
Reigning champion Dario Franchitti crashed in the morning and was 11th in the afternoon. After the session he was strongly critical of the condition of the track.
"[Motocross star] Ricky Carmichael would be better running around here than we are – it's so bumpy," Franchitti told IMS Radio. "We expected it to be somewhat bumpy, but it's crazy. Up the front straight we're wheel-spinning in fifth gear. It's like an ice rink. I'm not quite sure what's going on.
"If the surfaces were better, it would be an awesome track. Some bumps are cool, but this is a little bit beyond. At one point on the backstraight, you've got all four wheels off the ground."
Teammate Dixon was more charitable, noting that the track had "character," while Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Hideki Mutoh opined that the track should make for an interesting race.
"Because of the very long straight, there is a chance to overtake," Mutoh said. "The hairpin is quite tight, though, so I think there is going to be a lot happening there. If it rains, I think you can aquaplane on the back straight because it is so bumpy. It will be a survival race if it rains. It might be either way..."
The Indy Racing League said the track repairs were a matter of "fine-tuning" rather than a fundamental issue with the new course.
"We continue to work with circuit designer Tony Cotman and the promoter to fine-tune the track with the feedback we've received from the drivers," said an IRL statement. "This process is no different than any other new circuit we visit for the first time. Tony Cotman has done a great job creating a fast and racy track that will be a challenge to these world-class competitors while putting on a great show for our enthusiastic fans.
"We appreciate our drivers' feedback, as we want to make this a track they will enjoy to drive."