The 2010 Izod IndyCar Series Championship started off with a bang down in São Paulo, Brazil this weekend, with a first turn pileup and a thunderstorm that turned the race into a timed event instead of the planned 75-lapper. Even though it was cut short, it ended up being a pretty exciting kick-off to the season, the 15th for the series and third since the reunification with the Champ Car World Series. Following Brazil, the teams are headed back to the States for most of the remaining 16 races on the schedule, with two races in Canada and the Indy Japan 300 from Motegi rounding things off.
Besides the addition of Brazil to the schedule, the 2010 season sees a few rules changes – Gone is the drivers' four-position fuel mixture switch, the "push-to-pass" Honda Overtake assist button is back but twice as effective as before giving a boost of 10-40 horsepower when pushed, and all of the cars will now have a reverse gear for road and street courses. Another big change was the signing of Izod as the series title sponsor, putting a few more bucks into the revenue sharing pot.
The driver lineup stayed pretty consistent over the off-season, with a couple of teams dropping out and another group joining the field, a few new drivers coming into the series, some as novices and others making the jump from other series, including Formula 1. While some feel the real season won't start until the teams make it back to American soil at the next race in St. Petersburg, São Paulo made a lot of fans sit up and take notice as IndyCar action was back in all its ethanol-burning, open-wheel glory. Follow the jump to read how the opener unfolded.
The IndyCar circus headed south for the 2010 São Paulo Indy 300, starting the season overseas for the first time in the 15-year history of the league. The race was scheduled for 75 laps (190.2 miles) on a 2.536-mile temporary street circuit in São Paulo, Brazil, but was shortened to a two-hour time limit because of an extended red-flag period during a heavy thunderstorm.
Qualifying for IndyCar is a unique experience. The cars are split into two groups of twelve, with the fastest six from each group going through to the "Top 12" session. The fastest six from that session move on to the "Firestone Fast Six." Those six battle it out for the pole. In São Paulo, for the first time in IndyCar history, the qualifying had to take place on the same day as the race because the drivers felt the front straight was just too slick to be safe. Officials cut grooves into the track Saturday night to help fix the problem in time for qualifying on Sunday morning.
The final order of the Firestone Fast Six ended up being Chip Ganassi Racing's two-time and defending champ, Dario Franchitti (below at left) on pole, followed by Alex Tagliani (FAZZT Race Team), Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), Ryan Hunter-Reay in his maiden race for Andretti Autosport, Will Power making his return to the series for Team Penske after a late-season practice-session crash in 2009 left him with two broken vertebrae, and Tony Kanaan, also with Andretti Autosport.
Further down the starting grid were four drivers making their debuts – Former Formula One driver Takuma Sato, Firestone Indy Lights graduates Ana Beatriz and Mario Romancini, and Atlantic Championship title contender Simona de Silvestro. De Silvestro actually led four laps during the race, opting to stay on track when everyone else pitted following a full-course yellow. Additionally, seven drivers were racing with a homecountry advantage, including Brazilians Ana Beatriz, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Raphael Matos (above at far right with Jay Penske and Gil de Ferran), Vitor Meira, Mario Moraes and Mario Romancini.
When the green flag flew, the charge into Turn 1 resulted in a pileup that immediately knocked Marco Andretti and Mario Moraes out of the race. Moraes's car actually landed on top of Marco's. Thankfully, neither driver was hurt in the incident, and the other cars that got jostled in the altercation escaped relatively unscathed.
The race marched on with a few drivers pitting for quick repairs or to swap tires, until the rains came on lap 32. Just before the red flag, early race leader, Alex Tagliani, spun into the back of Tony Kanaan's after Dan Wheldon punted Tag from behind. That was the beginning of the first pit window and most of the drivers took advantage of the yellow and came in. In fact, all but de Silvestro headed to the pits, giving her the lead for three laps under yellow and one more coming back to green, a rare feat for a rookie, even if it was just because of the yellow.
The race from that green lasted until the rain started falling, but when the heavy drops arrived it got crazy. Danica Patrick had been running in the top ten all day, but she lost control in the wet, eventually finishing 15th. Ryan Hunter-Reay looked like the driver to beat for much of the race, seemingly pulling away with ease when he was able to pass slower cars ahead of him. Still, Penske's Ryan Briscoe (above) got past Hunter-Reay for the lead late in the race, but he crashed with about 13 minutes left to go after overcooking a corner.
Will Power was the next to step up to challenge Hunter-Reay, finally getting past the American driver with just three laps to go in the time-shortened race. Power made a great overtaking move to grab the lead from Hunter-Reay to clinch his second career victory in the inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300.
Power got the checkers just 1.858 seconds ahead of Hunter-Reay (above left), with home crowd hero, Vitor Meira (above right), third. Fourth went to fellow Brazilian Raphael Matos. Defending series champion Franchitti actually led the race after the 35-minute rain delay, but eventually fell to seventh at the end after sticking with rain tires too long when the track began to dry back out.
As excited as Meira and Matos were, the win obviously meant a lot to Power, who didn't sign his full-season deal with Penske until the last minute. Power was also relieved to be back in winning form following his season-ending back injury in Sonoma last year. Next up – the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, March 28.