There’s no shortage of paulistanos who have fantasised about jamming a foot down on the accelerator and zooming through the slow-moving red tail-lights and endless traffic of the Marginal Tietê. Every day, plenty of reckless amateurs give it a try.
But on the last weekend of April 2011, the professionals get to do it at speeds that will make the frustrated commuter weep with envy, as the IndyCar championship returns to the streets of São Paulo for the second year running.
The race, on Sunday 1 May 2011, will take place over a 4.1 kilometre circuit that will, as well as the Marginal, include the carnival avenue at Anhembi’s Sambódromo, which serves as the home stretch. Since it’s a street circuit, the course will be tight and narrow, with none of the run-off areas you find in purpose-built venues. Any driver who loses their racing line or spins off knows they’re heading straight for the race wall.
Adding to the excitement is the fact that the track is a mix of road asphalt and the concrete of the Sambódromo, which even in dry weather leaves cars struggling for a grip. In between the eleven turns around the course, drivers will be pushing speeds of up to 300 kilometres an hour. Two long straightaways and several tight corners means it’s a course designed for thrills.
‘Last year, we had 95 overtakings during the race. It’s a course that allows for passing,’ says driver Bia Figueiredo. Unlike Formula One, Indy is a mixed sport and Figueiredo is one of three women drivers who will be racing this season, along with Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro and American Danica Patrick, who, in 2008, became the first woman to win an Indy race.
A native paulistana making her full-season debut, Figueiredo says competing in front of her home fans will be one of her season highlights. ‘Along with the Indianapolis 500, this is the most special race for me. The Brazilian public is passionate about cars. They are loyal fans and I think they’re more fun than spectators in other countries. Last year they were shouting “Bia, I love you” and “Bia, marry me!” That doesn’t happen in other countries.’
Other Brazilian racers confirmed for the season are Indy’s 2004 champion Tony Kanaan of Salvador, Hélio Castroneves from Ribeirão Preto and Brasília-born Vitor Meira. Kanaan, who almost didn’t make the cut this year for lack of a sponsor, is one of racing’s most exciting personalities, famous for his charges from the back of the grid and considered to be among the greatest drivers never to win the Indianapolis 500, the sport’s blue ribbon event.
Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times, and is the Brazilian driver best placed to give the home fans a podium finish, being among the fastest drivers in pre-season testing. He holds the sport’s record for most pole starts, and has earned the nickname Spiderman for his unconventional victory ritual of scaling the fences of the track to celebrate his wins with adoring fans.
After Canada and Japan, Brazil is only the third country to host an Indy event outside of the USA, and last year’s inaugural race drew a huge crowd. After that success, in what is traditionally a rabid Formula One town, Indy quickly extended its contract with the city and has now signed on for an annual race until at least 2018.
Event organisers are understandably excited about the event and they expect as many as 90,000 fans in town over the race weekend, which looks set to, once again, demonstrate São Paulo’s status as one of the world’s top motorsport destinations.
The Australian racing driver Will Power won the São Paulo Indy 300