It’s really difficult to put into words something that is truly exciting and spectacular.
But those two words describe to a T Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series opener in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It had everything: hard driving, clever passing, a monsoon storm that brought out the red flag mixed in with brilliant sunshine (meaning cars were ducking in and out of the pits frequently), and one of the most incredible accidents you’re ever going to see in which it was a miracle that Marco Andretti wasn’t hurt, or worse.
Anybody watching even a bit of that race yesterday, and then saying with a straight face: "The IRL? I still miss Champ Car," just wasn’t paying attention.
In the end, Australian Will Power won going way in a Team Penske car, with American Ryan Hunter-Reay second driving for Andretti Autosport and Brazilian homeboy Vitor Meira third for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Top woman driver was Ana Beatriz of Brazil, who finished 13th. Two places behind her was American Danica Patrick, a lap down (she was left out on the circuit on dry tires when the storm hit and spun into a tire wall, damaging the front of her car), followed by Simona De Silvestro of Switzerland (she was three laps behind at the checkers but actually led the race at one point) and Milka Duno of Venezuela, who was 21st and hopeless.
Duno would have been last except for the numbskull moves made at the start by F1 refugee Takuma Sato, who missed his braking point at the first turn and piled into the cars in front of him, creating bedlam, and Brazilian veteran Mario Moraes who then piled pell-mell into the mess without braking, winding up on top of Andretti’s car with his right-rear wheel squishing Marco down in the cockpit.
The normally talkative Andretti simply looked at his rescuers when they finally got him out of the car, squatted down on the ground, and said: "Give me a second to collect myself."
Drivers blamed big-time dust for the crackups, caused when race officials took a grinder to smooth concrete on the pit straight in an effort to rough it up – a situation that caused qualifying to be postponed from Saturday until Sunday morning. Drivers hadn’t been able to get any grip on the concrete, causing them to slip-slide all over the place, hence the grinding.
As was the case in Bahrain with Felipe Massa, Power’s victory was a true feel-good story. The Aussie driver had suffered a broken back last August at Infineon Raceway in California when he crested a hill at just under 200 miles an hour and went straight into the side of the stalled car of Nelson Philippe of France, who was also injured.
Said Power: "I was in the hospital, and I was thinking, ‘Will I be well enough to race? And will I be fast enough to race?’
The answer to both those questions?
The Sao Paulo Indy 300, according to my notebook jottings:
– The only Canadian in the race, Alex Tagliani of Montreal (the announcing team of Bob Jenkins and Robbie Buhl made a big deal out of his owning a house in Arizona, though), was knocked out of the running when he was near the front (at one time, he was up to second).
Dan Wheldon, who eventually finished fifth, drove into the back of Tagliani, who then piled into Tony Kanaan. Kanaan was able to continue, Tags was not.
– By the way, although Robbie Buhl has a conflict of interest (he’s an announcer for the race broadcasts and is a partner in the Dreyer and Reinbold Racing team, which fields Justin Wilson and Mike Conway), his exuberance and excitement make up for it. He’s an entertaining guy.
– Although they were able to pull this race off, it’s astonishing that experienced racing people continue to try to run races in places where super fast racing cars clearly don’t fit. Never mind having to grind the concrete surface overnight Saturday into Sunday. The course was incredibly bumpy and it’s a tribute to the skill and daring of all the drivers that they were able to run at such a fast pace and yet keep the cars from breaking loose.
This weekend’s near-fiasco was reminiscent of Champ Car’s attempt to hold a street race in downtown San Jose. Remember that? The track wasn’t wide enough in a couple of places for two cars to fit side-by-side and, the first year anyway, they had to run across a railroad track.
Okay, Sao Paulo wasn't that bad - but it was close.
– Race control warned Raphael Matos (who finished fourth) about blocking (or defending his position, as the road racers like to say), which is a no-no in IndyCar. Jenkins had barely gotten the words out of his mouth than the camera showed Scott Dixon moving out to blatantly block his own teammate, Dario Franchitti, who was trying to pass him.
Race control either didn’t say anything or Jenkins didn’t mention it. But I betcha Mr. Franchitti had a few choice words for Mr. Dixon later.
The Indy cars now go to Florida (St. Pete’s) two weekends from now. Ana Beatriz likely won’t be there (she was a one-off, up from Indy Lights, so must clearly be pleased with her result) but Graham Rahal will be, driving for Sarah Fisher.
NASCAR took a week off, but will be back next weekend at Bristol. Wonder who will be getting payback from whom? Which is a reasonable question, because it sure ain’t about the racing anymore.