Race Preview: Milwaukee IndyFest


MILWAUKEE INDYFEST LOGOMilwaukee MapINDYCAR continues its oval stretch this weekend when they grid cars on the famous Milwaukee Mile for the ninth round of the IZOD IndyCar Series 2013 campaign.  Milwaukee, known as the “Mini-Indy”, is a 1-mile oval which contains no banking.  The lack of banking creates a driver/engineer exercise unlike any other the IndyCars face on the schedule.  The driver must be prepared to drive 250 miles up on the wheel navigating traffic while engineers must work to give their drivers a setup that will allow he or she to attack the track…which is essential to be competitive.  Although designed after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile presents INDYCAR teams and drivers with a vastly different challenge.

FUEL, FUEL, FUEL…

Fuel ThingyFuel mileage always plays a huge role in Auto Racing whether it decides a race at the end or if, like in Texas last week, the winning driver is the last to pit each stint of the race giving themselves an advantage and the ability to avoid bad luck yellow flags because they are on a lap of their own.  While fuel mileage will certainly play a role in this race, the distance has been increased from 225 miles to 250 miles to discourage immediate fuel conservation and make the show more entertaining from the get go.  Look for who can run the longest stints on fuel.

HELIO HAS WORK TO DO

Helio Castroneves Milwaukee 2013Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, fresh of his win at Texas, enters the Milwaukee IndyFest as the IZOD IndyCar Series points leader by 21 markers over Marco Andretti.  Though Castroneves showed very competitive in practice, a greedy qualifying setup resulted in a very neutral, or loose, qualifying run.  The result, Castroneves will lead the bottom third of the grid to the green flag in 18th position.  Castroneves’ problem got compounded when Andretti, his championship rival, already closed the gap by one point by winning the Verizon P1 Pole Award and will lead the field to the green flag.  Castroneves will need to navigate traffic, stay out of trouble, and make it to the front if he is to retain the points lead leaving heading to Iowa because Marco certainly has the leg up so far this weekend.

FOLLOW ANDRETTI…Marco Andretti 2013 milwaukee

Qualifying at the Milwaukee IndyFest looked like an Andretti Autosport parade until Will Power broke into the top-3.  Still, Andretti Autosport captured four of the top five starting positions so they are loaded for bear.  Starting outside row one is James Hinchcliffe who was absolutely out to lunch in practice but a long shot setup thrown at the car generated speed and grip allowing the Mayor of Hinchtown to complete the Andretti Autosport sweep of the front row.  Can they capitalize on their starting positions to win the race?

WHERE’S THE TARGET?

Dario Franchitti Milwaukee 2013While both Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers are now in the top-ten in points, we have yet to see any of the dominant runs that we are used to seeing from the team with the Target painted on their sidepods.  The team that, at one point, won five consecutive series titles seems to be struggling in every way possible so far this season be it mechanical failures, grip, or horsepower.  Scott Dixon led the Ganassi operation with a eleventh place starting position on the grid while Dario Franchitti will start mired back with fellow three time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves in nineteenth position.  Can Ganassi use strategy and find the setup that will allow their drivers to utilize the ‘sweet spot’ on the DW12 that makes the car go so fast?

WHO IS GONNA WIN IT?

Michael AndrettiThis race was dead to rights two years ago until Michael Andretti personally stuck his neck under the guillotine to revive it.  Like Roger Penske revived the Grand Prix of Detroit, Andretti saw value in racing at one of the oldest tracks in North America and created a festival atmosphere around the event to entice all types of fans to come and enjoy the most exciting short track racing any series has to offer.  The 2012 race has saved this race for the time being and, with any luck, the attendance needle will move in the positive direction this year and lead to the Milwaukee Mile holding a permanent place on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule as the series and its management move forward.  From Sam Hornish driving like a madman to win after spinning out his teammate to Ryan Briscoe capturing his first career win while avoiding Vitor Meira climbing over the top of Marco Andretti in 2008, the race at the Milwaukee Mile never disappoints.  Who wins this race, you ask?  All fans of INDYCAR are winners of this race for the simple reason that it is happening!

2013 Race Preview: Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg


StPete LogoTRACK LAYOUT:

GP St. Pete Track MapOn March 24, the IZOD IndyCar Series awakens from its offseason slumber with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the event’s ninth year of competition.  It is hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since the circuit hosted the IndyCar Series’ first right turn.  The course, a classic street circuit configuration, encompasses fourteen turns with the main straight normally an airport runway.

Now a staple on the IndyCar schedule, the event’s ninth edition has all the makings of the best race in the event’s history.  The IZOD IndyCar Series prepares to grid the most competitive field in history with everyone powered by the horsepower muscle of Chevrolet or Honda.

INDYCAR Spring TrainingTeam Penske’s record at the track is unmatched as the team looks to capture its sixth win at St. Pete and Will Power fired the first salvo winning the Verizon Pole Position recording a record breaking 105.87 mph. Teammate Helio Castroneves will be striving for his fourth St. Petersburg crown starting from the fifth position.

The positive surprise of the weekend is lone rookie driver Tristan Vautier who outqualified his veteran teammate by thirteen positions making the Firestone Fast Six.  Vautier, a graduate of Indy Lights, showed great speed in testing but it was unsure if it would translate to a competition weekend.  His speed is impressive, however, the verdict is out on whether he will be able to translate his speed into finishes that match.

IndyCar’s heavy hitters are spread throughout the field which should mean for some serious excitement with some, historically, fast drivers needing to weave their way through the field using daring passing and pit strategy that could result in chaos on starts and restarts.  These factors are a breeding ground for exciting racing and unpredictable outcomes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

  • Chevrolet locked down seven of the top ten starting grid positions, but will Honda find speed to challenge on race day?
  • Chip Ganassi Racing is having a tough time getting their cars to turn through the center of the corners inhibiting their speed
  • Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon are starting outside the top-15 so there will be a long day ahead for these drivers
  • Firestone, at the drivers’ request, brought vastly different grip levels on the red tires and black tires so tire strategy will be important to the victor’s race
  • Lap 1, Turn 1…enough said

Enjoy the Race!

 

CHAMPIONSHIP Preview: Auto Club Speedway


NASCAR opens their ten race Chase at Chicagoland, but this is Open-Wheel’s weekend!  Fourteen races in the books for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series and it all comes down to this weekend at Auto Club Speedway for the MAVTV 500 on Saturday night!  This will be the ultimate test for the two teams vying for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship as the IndyCar season concludes on the 2-Mile oval track located an hours drive outside Los Angeles.  The last time IndyCar graced the facility with its presence was 2005 in the season finale won by Dario Franchitti and crowning the late Dan Wheldon the series champion, although Wheldon sealed the championship the week before.  The 2012 IndyCar World Championships mark seventh consecutive season that the championship will be decided in the final round with no Chase, Countdown, or Overtime required.

WILL POWER VS. RYAN HUNTER-REAY

There were 26 driver/car combinations entered for the first race at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Peterburg, but it all comes down to two drivers at Auto Club Speedway.  Will Power enters the weekend with a 17-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay, the only other driver who could walk away from the MAVTV 500.  While Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon remain, currently, eligible for the championship they will be mathematically eliminated once Will Power completes his qualifying run as Power will be guaranteed a starting position and enough points to eliminate those two drivers once the green flag falls.  No matter which driver walks away with the championship, it will be a great story to cap an incredible IndyCar season.

Will Power began his open-wheel career in Champ Car capturing four wins with Team Australia, but was left without a car to drive when sponsorship contracts were not renewed.  Then, in 2009, The Captain, Roger Penske, came calling to hire him as a replacement for Helio Castroneves until he was able to return.  Power has been a top contender for the IndyCar championship since joining Team Penske full-time in 2010.  In that time, Power has amassed fourteen victories and finished runner-up in the final points standing the past two seasons.  Power has had the field covered for much of the last three years, however, he has fallen just short of the series title.  Truth be told, Power has wiped the pavement with the rest of the field on road and street courses, but his downfall has been performance on oval tracks where he has just one victory.  Place on top of the pile that Power has never competed at the Fontana track and his first time on the track was a test the week prior.  Through his own mistakes or bad luck, Power is notorious for choking in season finale races but this could be the year that Power’s season long work is finally rewarded with a series championship but he must be bolstered for a fight to the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay enters the finale trailing Will Power by 17 points.  Hunter-Reay’s history in racing has been turbulent at best.  Hunter-Reay joined Champ Car in 2003 and became a journeyman until 2005 when he was released from the Rockesports team with two rounds to go.  He, then, joined A1GP for 2006 into 2007 until being hired to replace Jeff Simmons in the Rahal Letterman Racing IndyCar which he drove in 2008 to the Chase Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 but sponsorship dried up and Hunter-Reay was left without a ride for 2009.  Hunter-Reay joined Vision Racing as teammate for Ed Carpenter and had to scratch and claw his way into the Indianapolis 500 after which he moved to AJ Foyt Racing replacing the injured Vitor Meira.  Hunter-Reay got his break in 2010 signing to drive for Andretti Autosport with funding from IZOD.  With IZOD only a partial season deal, Andretti stuck his neck out for American driver scrapping enough money together to run the full season.  DHL/SunDrop came onboard for the full campaign in 2011 where Hunter-Reay failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, coming under scrutiny for “stealing” Bruno Junqueira’s qualified car.  If Hunter-Reay wins the championship, all of his perseverance will be rewarded, maybe not on the timetable Ryan envisioned, but a reward nonetheless.  Hunter-Reay would also be the first American driver to win the IndyCar crown since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

TEAM PENSKE VS. ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

If the finale were on a road course, 17 points would be deemed difficult if not insurmountable, but this is an oval track with higher speeds, high banks, and points can come and go quickly.  Hunter-Reay currently leads the Oval Championship, bolstered by short-track wins at Milwaukee and Iowa, but Auto Club Speedway is a different animal.  The IZOD IndyCar technical department along with the drivers developed an aerodynamic baseline using the wing package, shown below, utilized at Indianapolis combined with the low underwing downforce used at Texas Motor Speedway to inhibit pack racing and putting the car in the driver’s hands.

The Firestone tire compound is expected to be similar to Texas so cars will be coming and going in much the same fashion.  Teammates could be the lynchpin to this Championship.  Power has allies in Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe while Hunter-Reay can rely on Hinchcliffe, Andretti, and Saavedra.  On paper, the teammate advantage goes heavily in favor of Team Penske as Castroneves is the only driver to compete at Auto Club Speedway of those listed and Briscoe is close behind in oval experience and success.

500 MILE SPECTACLE UNDER THE SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

What separates this race from other championship finales is that it is a marathon.  The race is 250 laps and 500 miles in length, by far the longest final race in series history.  The race will begin in the failing light, move into twilight, and end under the lights so adjusting the car as the track temperature changes will be of paramount importance to the contenders for the championship or the race win.  The race will require seven or eight pit stops so the pressure is on the crew to execute these changes quickly to put their driver in a position toward the front.

This is going to be an EPIC finale to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season and anything can happen once the green flag falls.  There will be 26 cars vying for positions in this race and only seven of them give a rip about the championship which leaves opportunity for drivers outside the championship hunt to cause problems for the contenders.  Everyone knows this offseason is going to be long and they will all be looking for a positive result as they park their cars for 2012.  Tune in to NBC Sports Network at 7:30 eastern time Saturday night for all the action!

OTHER NOTES: AJ Foyt Racing driver, Mike Conway, revealed his extensive discomfort for oval racing surrendering the No. 14 ABC Supply car to Wade Cunningham this weekend.  Conway’s IndyCar future is unknown at this time.

Legendary motorsports announcer Bob Jenkins will be calling his final race for the forseeable future on Saturday.  Jenkins has brought a professional, endearing, and exciting flavor to IndyCar broadcasts since taking on the anchor role in 2010.  May his journey after Saturday be swift and fruitful and we’ll see him at Indianapolis next May.

Round 6 Preview: Detroit Grand Prix of Belle Isle


TRACK MAP / LAYOUT:

The Month of May is complete and the run for the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship re-commences this weekend at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix of Belle Isle.  The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the famed Belle Isle circuit for the first time since the 2008 campaign.  The event was removed from the schedule amid the economic crisis that struck the Motor City in the fall of 2008, but makes its return on the 2012 calendar.  The event is managed by Roger Penske’s organization which immediately makes the race a first class affair.  The event’s only two winners are Tony Kanaan and Justin Wilson.

PENSKE POWER RETURNS TO THE ROAD

After a disappointing Indianapolis 500, the Chevrolet powered juggernaut of Team Penske returns to the discipline they have shown dominance in 2012.  The road and street courses have fared well for Team Penske garnering four wins and four poles.  Will Power, after an especially disappointing Indianapolis 500 where he was collected in Mike Conway’s spin put a substantial dent in his points lead, looks to rebound on the tracks that he has been nearly unbeatable in his tenure at Team Penske while, after posting a 5th and 10th place finish at Indianapolis, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves look to make up points on their Verizon Team Penske teammate.

GANASSI LOOKS TO CONTINUE INDIANAPOLIS MOJO

The four car stable of Chip Ganassi Racing spent the Month of May scratching their heads and searching for speed…until Carb Day.  Once the cars were married with their new Honda engines to be used during the race they came to life and were the dominant cars on race day.  Going back to a street course could be a different story, however, because Chevrolet has had the upper hand so far on the courses.  Dario Franchitti has struggled to find balance on the car when he must turn left and right, but winning Indy could give him the momentum boost he needs to make a run for his fifth series title.  Dixon, on the other hand, has shown great pace and ability on Road and Street courses this season with two runner-up finishes to go with some tough luck in Long Beach and Brazil.  Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball continue to run through their programs in 2012 and with decent Months of May could be poised to take a step forward.

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT LOOKS TO TURN IT AROUND

Up until Carb Day, it seemed as though Andretti Autosport had the Indianapolis 500 figured, but Race Day proved to be a different matter all together.  For the Grand Prix of Belle Isle, Andretti Autosport returns to their full-season three car stable and hopes that less is more when it comes to the rest of the season.  Andretti Autosport drivers are all very solid on the road and street courses and should contend for the top-six spots on the grid.  It is popular opinion that all three of these cars should find themselves in Victory Lane at some point in 2012.  Will Detroit be their breakthrough performance?

CHEVROLET LOOKS FOR BOUNCEBACK PERFORMANCE

It would be an understatement to say that Chevrolet was surprised at the results of the Indianapolis 500.  Sure, Chevrolet captured five of the top-10 positions in the final running order, but they had to scrape, claw, and strategize for the entire race to put themselves in competitive position with Honda.  Honda had the Chevrolet teams covered on race day, however, it’s back to a street course where Chevrolet has been so dominant in 2012 and Chevrolet is looking to make a post-Indy statement that Honda’s dominance  at the Speedway will not go unanswered.  Chevrolet and its teams will come to play this weekend.

RANDY BERNARD UNDER FIRE FROM OWNERS

In the wake of an Indianapolis 500 that should be written in the books as one of the best in the history of the race, there has been rumor that some of IndyCar’s team owners have called for CEO Randy Bernard to be removed from his high profile position.  It is unknown if these rumors are true, nor is it known on what grounds the owner(s) are calling for Bernard’s removal, but it does not matter.  Instead of celebrating an Indy 500 for the ages, IndyCar is having to put out a fire of hearsay and conjecture.  It is true that Bernard has made some mistakes in his short tenure as IndyCar’s CEO, however, he has made great strides for the sport of IndyCar Racing and the future is brighter under his watch.  Bernard constantly fights for the fans, sponsors, and the product produced on the track.  Bernard is responsible for moving on an upgrade in equipment for 2012 with the DW12 chassis and a new, exciting, engine package that has produced five amazing races.  The car can pass where the previous one could not, especially on the double-file restarts.  What Bernard does need is a liaison between the CEO and sanctioning body of INDYCAR and the drivers and owners in the Paddock.  This person must be experienced in all aspects of the sport, management, promotional, and competitive to help Bernard communicate his desires and intentions effectively to the Paddock. The bottom line, here, is that IndyCar is run by the sanctioning body and not the owners or manufacturers.  This sport has tried that before and failed miserably.  Is the new car more expensive than was originally advertised?  Yes, however, there were bound to be bumps in the road along the way.  The owners got spoiled for years because they didn’t need to buy new equipment as the spec was the same since 2003, engines included since 2006.  Let’s put all these rumors and squabbling to bed and go racing this weekend in Detroit!

Detroit Spotter Guide

All That’s Left Is 500 Miles!


TRACK LAYOUT / MAP:

Rookie Orientation Program, Seven days of practice, Two days of qualifications, Carb Day Final Practice with Pit Stop Competition, and 500 Festival Parade…Complete.  All that is left for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Indianapolis is to run 500 Miles and find out whose face is etched on the Borg Warner trophy this time next year.  Storylines are abound on the eve of the World’s Greatest Race!

NEW CARS AND CHEVROLET VS. HONDA

The IZOD IndyCar Series debuts its new DW12 package on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in race competition for the first time on an oval.  The car has gone through substantial testing and modification to bring it to this point.  New rear wings and underwing ground effects have greatly enhanced the car’s ability at IMS.  The car drafts very well and according to drivers being ten car lengths behind in this car is like two car lengths in the car that IndyCar retired after the 2011 season.  This year’s rendition of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race could have to most passes in the history of the event, especially for the lead.  The indications are that this aero package could breed Indianapolis’ version of “pack racing” so hopefully the drivers use their heads and have a safe afternoon.  Double-file restarts have been scrapped for this year’s race for safety reasons which should help the safety factor.  This new DW12 car is still in the development stages and drivers have said that the car can be difficult in traffic so that is something to watch.  The question is which driver/team combination can find the car’s sweet spot over the course of the race’s 200 laps to make their car the best in traffic?

Returning to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since 2005 is engine competition.  Series staple Honda along with returning Chevrolet and newbies Lotus have entered cars in the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  Lotus is not expected to be a factor, but Chevrolet and Honda will duke it out until the very end.  The Indianapolis 500 has often proven to be won on a game of fuel mileage strategy and the 2012 edition could be more of the same.  Through the first four races the Chevrolet twin turbo powerplant has been able to get slightly better fuel mileage than their Honda counterparts, however, all these races were on road and street courses so the engines were not constantly on the high end of the RPM meter.  Which manufacturer will emerge victorious?

PENSKE GOING FOR 16:

Roger Penske, honored at Legend’s Day in 2012, is going for his 16th Win at the Indianapolis 500 as an owner.  Penske has an unmatched record at the Speedway, a record he would undoubtedly like to build upon.  Ryan Briscoe has already won the Pole Postion for Team Penske giving Roger the first bullet fired in the race.  Briscoe is joined in the top six by teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves starting 5th and 6th respectively.  Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet powered Shell V-Power Team Penske car, strives for his fourth Indianapolis 500 win;  A feat only accomplished by Rick Mears, AJ Foyt, and Al Unser while Power and Briscoe look for their first likeness on the Borg Warner Trophy.  Since 2003, when Gil de Ferran gave Penske his third straight win after returning to the race in 2001, Team Penske has won in 2006 and 2009 marking a return to victory lane every three years.  2012 would be three years since the last win.  The numbers add up, but will the results on Race Day?

GANASSI WINS CARB DAY!

The Andretti Autosport and Penske teams handily outdueled the four car Chip Ganassi Racing stable in qualifying, but, if Carb Day is any indication, Ganassi’s team should be a factor on Race Day.  Dario Franchitti topped the speed chart in final practice on Carb Day followed closely by Scott Dixon.  Dixon finished the day for Team Target by winning the Pit Stop Competition, a first for Chip Ganassi in his storied history at the Brickyard.  Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball also showed strong pace on Carb Day practice and with the DW12’s drafting ability these cars could go straight to the front!

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT POISED FOR HUGE REBOUND!

In 2011, Andretti Autosport endured possibly the most difficult month of May at Indianapolis for any team since Team Penske failed to qualify in 1995.  The 2011 Andretti Autosport cars handled well, but had no speed, ending up with Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay missing the 33 car field in qualifying and Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti making the field on Bump Day by the slimmest of margins.  Fast forward to 2012, Andretti Autosport entered the sacred ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway loaded for bear qualifying cars in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th separating only Team Penske in the front two rows.  James Hinchcliffe missed the Pole by a total of ten inches.  Andretti Autosport could be the team Favorited to win the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with the pace, talent, and experience of their cars and drivers.  What will 500 Miles hold?

19 YEARS IN FORMULA 1, FIRST INDIANAPOLIS 500

Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello faced a steep learning curve entering the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for IndyCar’s Month of May.  Barrichello has shown well in practice and qualifying by starting 10th, but this race is a 3 1/2 hour, 500 mile marathon of an event.  The learning curve only gets steeper as Barrichello has yet to drive an IndyCar on an oval in traffic for any substantial length of time, and, thusly, has a monumental task in front of him.  Barrichello must approach Indianapolis as he has every other race and test session which is a learning experience.  Barrichello has done a remarkable job through the first four races keeping the car on the track and learning as much as he can each event.  Don’t count Barrichello out if he can keep the No. 8 KV Racing car on the track and the lead lap when it comes down to the finish.

THE…HEAT…IS…ON!!!!!!!!!!

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a history of having a say in who wins this race.  The biggest factor on race day may not be the cars, drivers, strategy, engines, or tires but the SUN!  This could be the hottest Indianapolis 500 on record making the conditions harsh on handling, driver fatigue, and engine reliability.  The drivers will have a difficult time staying hydrated and focused for the 500 miles.  Who can endure the conditions?

BOTTOM LINE:

This field, except for the two Lotus powered cars, is WIDE OPEN with a winner too tough to call and surprises could be abound once the green flag drops at around 12:15 Sunday.  Tune into ABC for all the action at 11:00 AM Eastern time!  Pull up a chair and E N J O Y!

REMEMBER OUR FALLEN HERO

For the first time since 1947, the defending Champion of the Indianapolis 500 will not be able to defend his title due to his death.  The most important part of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 is remembering the great Dan Wheldon.  Dan Wheldon loved this race more than any other and everybody knew it.  Wheldon came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011 with a small team helmed by former Andretti Green Racing teammate Bryan Herta.  The team became sleepers qualifying sixth and triumphantly crossed the bricks first after JR Hildebrand hit the Turn 4 wall on the final lap.  Nobody thought that win would be Dan’s last.  Wheldon was more than just a top flight racecar driver, he was an ambassador for the sport of IndyCar racing always taking extra time for a photograph or an autograph for a loving fan.  Dan’s death has left holes in the lives of everybody that loves INDYCAR…holes that may never be filled.  Dan Wheldon was a fan favorite, media favorite, and competitor favorite and meant more to our sport than just about anybody.  Wheldon was slated to drive the GoDaddy.com car that James Hinchcliffe now pilots.  Instead of piloting the car, screaming in to turn 1 as the green flag drops, Dan Wheldon will be watching the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, 2012 from the best seat in the house.  Alas, he will not be here with the rest of us and it hurts.  Everybody wear some Orange on Race Day in honor of the late, great Dan Wheldon!  Hope you enjoy this one, Dan, it’s going to be a great race. 

R.I.P. DAN WHELDON

 


Round 4 Preview: Sao Paulo Indy 300


TRACK LAYOUT:

 Round four of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule has the paddock traveling to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a race through the streets of this amazing city.  The course is a 2.5 mile street circuit with 11 turns and more passing zones than a typical street circuit.  The main straightaway cuts through the iconic Sambadrome with a hard left hand turn that is turn 1.  This course is brilliantly designed with long high-speed straightaways with tight turns at the end to promote exciting racing due to passing being possible.  This is the third event for the IZOD IndyCar Series on this course and weather has played a big factor in both previous renditions so IZOD IndyCar Series Teams will need to make sure that their rain tires are not far away.

This is how the 2011 Sao Paulo race started:

Sau Paulo could be considered the beginning of the end for Race Director Brian Barnhart who made a huge miscalculation and leap.  Due to the event being international as well as the last event before the month of May began at Indianapolis, Barnhart elected to attempt to get the race in as scheduled on Sunday during a downpour.  IndyCars have treaded rain tires, yes, however they are not designed to endure deep pockets of standing water.  Given that the Sao Paulo circuit is a street course, it lacks the draining inovation of a permanent road course such as Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course thus causing deep puddles on all portions of the race course.  The green flag waved with cars having no grip due to the extreme wet conditions.  Caution came out in the first turn for a crash collecting Helio Castroneves, Simona de Silvestro, and Danica Patrick among others.  The race ran under caution for 9 laps before it was postponed until Monday morning when Team Penske driver Will Power piloted his Verizon Dallara to victory lane on another rain filled morning in Sao Paulo.

2012 PREVIEW:

Team Penske and Chevrolet have asserted their early dominance in 2012, but help could be on the way for the Honda camp as INDYCAR has approved an upgrade to Honda’s single-turbo system that could mean as much as 10-15 extra horsepower for those drivers.  Chevrolet still has the advantage in terms of driver ability, but this turbo change could allow Honda’s top drivers to finally be contenders on equal footing with Team Chevrolet.  One of the biggest storylines for this race will be the return of Rubens Barrichello to Brazil joining fellow Brazilians Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Ana Beatriz, who is making her debut with Andretti Autosport this weekend.  Weather will, once again, be the wild card this weekend as the forecast calls for 60% chance of rain on each day that cars are due to be on track.  With the new DW12 formula, all teams and drivers will be strapped for track time to learn how their cars will take to this race course.  Some improvements have been made for drainage on the course so if it does rain heavily perhaps a situation like 2011 will not occur.  Even when all drivers were running the same configuration last season, Will Power backed up his reputation for being the best at race tracks with left and right turns and it would be difficult for a 15 horsepower boost from a Honda team to change this.  Team Penske has taken all three race wins and poles so far in 2012 with each driver contributing to these feats and enter the weekend still the team to beat.  Look for lots of passing in this race with the long straightaways and slow and fast corners.  If the DW12 has shown anything so far in 2012, it is that it makes impossible passes with the old formula possible.  Also of note, Alex Tagliani and Bryan Herta Autosport have elected to skip the Brazil race to prepare for the Indianapolis 500 next month where they are defending winners of the Pole and the Race.  This will also be the final event of the season that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will be powered by Lotus.  Should be an exciting day in Brazil so tune in to NBC Sports Network at 11am eastern time on Sunday April 29 to find out who wins!

SPOTTER GUIDE:

Sao Paulo Spotter Guide

Preview: Race # 3 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach


TRACK MAP / LAYOUT:

The Long Beach circuit is a 1.9 mile 11-turn temporary street course with a history of being action packed on and off the track.  It has a very long dog-legged straightaway with cars achieving speeds approaching 180 mph followed by a 90 degree left turn which is Turn 1.  Drivers tempers can flare up quickly due to the tight quarters and few passing opportunities.  Double-file restarts were used for the first time in the 2011 race.  Will Power captured the Pole Position for the race, a hidden gem of the season with Andretti Autosport’s Mike Conway pulling out a surprise win holding off hard charging Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe.  The story of this race, other than Mike Conway’s “upset” victory, was an incident entering Turn 1 on a double-file restart where Helio Castroneves misjudged his braking point making right-front to left-ear contact with teammate Will Power, removing himself and his Team Penske teammate from contention.  This would wind up being a turning point for the worse in Castroneves’ season where he achieved no race wins!

Two races into the 2012 season, it seems as though Chevrolet and Team Penske have the field covered, however, it is only two chapters complete of the sixteen to be written in 2012 so anything can happen.  The IZOD IndyCar Series takes its dramatic product to the 11-turn street course in Long Beach.  This is an event like no other in IndyCar racing due to its history being the second longest to Indianapolis.  The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has been on the open wheel schedule for over thirty years.  The race draws attention from the glittered stardom of Hollywood and continues to be one of the most famous races worldwide.  Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves enters the third race weekend with the points lead,    currently a paper thin margin of two points over Scott Dixon.  Dixon has started the season with back-to-back 2nd Place results letting the field know that he has come to play.  Castroneves’ Team Penske teammate Will Power sits third with James Hinchcliffe of and Andretti Autosport, and a surprise Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top-5.  Drivers in need of bounce back weekends include Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan who both suffered tough days at Barber Motorsports Park.  This edition of the Grand Prix of Long Beach marks the debut of the DW12 at the event with turbochargers returning for the first time since the last Champ Car race in 2008.  The Lotus camp may have a difficult weekend ahead of them given the couple high speed sections of the race course.  Places to watch on the course are the long straightaway coming down to Turn 1 and Turn 9, which are the best places to pass, as well as the Turn 11 hairpin getting back to the front stretch as it is essential to getting a good run down the straightaway, especially with no push-to-pass in the engine formula as of yet.  It is very possible that the Long Beach Grand Prix race course may test how much contact the DW12 can endure so make sure to tune in for that!

ENTRY LIST:

# 2 Ryan Briscoe HITACHI Team Penske Chevrolet

# 3 Helio Castroneves Auto Club Team Penske Chevrolet

# 4 JR Hildebrand National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet

# 5 EJ Viso CITGO KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

# 6 Katherine Legge TrueCar Dragon Racing Lotus

# 7 Sebastien Bourdais McAfee Dragon Racing Lotus

# 8 Rubens Barrichello BMC KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

# 9 Scott Dixon Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

# 10 Dario Franchitti Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

# 11 Tony Kanaan Mouser / GEICO KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

# 12 Will Power Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

# 14 Mike Conway ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda

# 15 Takuma Sato MiJack Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda

# 18 Justin Wilson Sonny’s Bar-B-Que Dale Coyne Racing Honda

# 19 James Jakes BSA Dale Coyne Racing Honda

# 20 Ed Carpenter Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

# 22 Oriol Servia Lotus Cars Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Lotus

# 26 Marco Andretti RC Cola Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 27 James Hinchcliffe GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay DHL / SunDrop Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 38 Graham Rahal Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

# 67 Josef Newgarden Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda

# 77 Simon Pagenaud HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda

# 78 Simona de Silvestro Entergy HVM Racing Lotus

# 83 Charlie Kimball Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

# 98 Alex Tagliani Barracuda Networks BHA Lotus