(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
Let me set the scene for you.
The doorbell rings — scratch that — the thump of a fist on my front door awakens me from a deep slumber. Unsatisfied that I haven’t responded within four seconds, three more thumps emerge. Four seconds later, another three thumps. After stubbing my toe (twice) because it’s 4:15 AM and I’m still asleep, I answer the door.
Opposite the threshold from me, obviously not impressed by the eye-crusties I’m still trying to remove, is a young lady wearing a t-shirt that says something along the lines of “My guys turn right.” After considering that this is not in fact a nightmare, it occurs to me that my Canadian Planet-IRL counterpart is standing at my front door. Fortunately (or unfortunately), at this absurd hour of the morning, I don’t yet have the energy to slam the door and walk away, so I can’t help but notice she’s waving her finger at me (a la “three snaps in a Z-formation”), her neck is transposing back and forth independent from the rest of her body, and out of her mouth (at a volume great enough to ensure that my neighbors have called the police for some sort of domestic disturbance) are coming the words, “See, I told you so! I TOLD YOU SO!”
Having finally convinced myself that this is really just another of those kids trying to raise money for spending the summer at a business camp in London, I peel myself away from the door, hearing it shut but noticing only a slightly muffling the sound coming from the other side, once again ascend the stairs, and crawl back in bed. My wife asks what the hell was going on, to which I simply respond, “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and fall fast back asleep.
Given my outspoken and well-documented disdain for street courses on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar, I have no doubts that this scene would have played out much in this manner had it not been for the 467 miles that thankfully separate me from my Canadian friend in Toronto on a daily basis. Nonetheless, it is with a sense of honor that I request a bit of Buffalo sauce for the crow that Steph will be making me eat until the IZOD IndyCar Series fires up again in St. Petersburg, Florida, in just under two weeks. The IndyCar Series event in São Paulo, Brazil, yesterday was one of the most exciting and entertaining races I’ve seen in quite some time. This race really did have it all, from interesting pit strategies to rain, new faces and teams at the front, the great showing of an American driver, and a track that provided plenty of opportunities to pass. I truly did enjoy this street course.
Does this mean that I’m a street course fan now? No. Nine times out of ten, I would still prefer to watch a “boring” oval (like last year’s race at Texas) compared to a “good” (not great) street course (like pretty much every year at Long Beach). However, the São Paulo race was an exception to my fundamental way of thinking, and the odds are good that I will actually save this one on the DVR and watch it again.
What really made this race interesting from my perspective was that there were so many great stories evolving through the race, and even though the race was cut short due to the 35-minute, thunderstorm-induced red flag, I didn’t feel like I got cheated. For most of the early part of the race, it appeared that Dario Franchitti was in command, but the “other” Ryan (Hunter-Reay) looked strong in what we can only hope signals a rebound for Andretti Autosport. (I’m not quite ready to say that they are back yet because, as has been said many times, the road/street courses are the equalizer amongst all teams. Let’s see if AA can keep up with Penske and Ganassi when the circus rolls into Kansas at the end of April.)
After the rain storm, Ryan Briscoe predictably found himself at the top of the pylon and looking solid. Suddenly, in a move that reminded me of the 2005 version of Ryan Briscoe, he just missed a turn and drove straight into the tires. Then, it appeared that RHR had the race under control but, with fuel becoming an issue, Will Power closed the gap and was able to get by for the lead with only three laps to go. And those were just the stories up front. The action behind the leaders was intense as well, with Panther Racing’s Dan Wheldon seeming to constantly be in the middle of it.
It was really a pleasure to see Will Power come away with the victory in the Verizon Team Penske machine. After seeing him suffer his horrifying crash at Infineon Raceway last August, I honestly wondered if Will would be able to put it behind him and be competitive again in a race car. He certainly answered those questions with an emphatic statement and cemented his reputation as one of the best street courses racers in the Series. I still question whether Power has the patience and consistency to perform up front on the ovals, but he can easily be considered the man to beat on the road and street courses.
In my opinion, though, the feel-good story coming out of the week is Vitor Meira. After suffering a savage crash last year at Indianapolis that caused him to spend the rest of the year on the sidelines, to come back with an AJ Foyt team that has mostly been a backmarker the last several years (save for a sensational runner-up finish by Darren Manning at Watkins Glen in 2008) really shows the kind of heart that Vitor has and the type of moxie he possesses. Lots of credit goes to AJ as well for sticking with Vitor during this time, and I hope they both feel rewarded for their efforts. Let me briefly remind you that I did say that Foyt and Vitor would get a top-10 this season, so it’s nice to see that I was proven correct so quickly (and don’t let Steph tell you otherwise!).
The other surprise story to me was the disappearance of last year’s title contenders in the final race standings. Yes, Dario Franchitti led a lot of laps (29 to be specific), but once he got shuffled back after the thunderstorm, he never challenged again. Briscoe led only four laps before having a brain fade and, to be quite honest, I couldn’t tell you anything about Helio’s and Dixon’s race after they were involved in the first lap incident (nice braking there, Taku!).
Now, I’m not particularly worried that the old Red and White guard are not going to be back up at the front of the field soon. Remember that Dixon had a terrible start to the season last year and recovered very nicely with a win at Kansas in the third event of the year. It’s just odd to not find the 3, 6, 9, or 10 cars amongst the top five at the end of the day.
Given what we saw in São Paulo on Sunday, I am actually really looking forward to the next handful of events on the road and street courses. Going into the Month of May (which now also includes the stop at Kansas Speedway on May 1st), the points standings are going to look unlike anything we’ve seen in the IZOD IndyCar Series for at least the last decade. With six different teams occupying the top six positions this weekend, look for more of the same in the coming six weeks. Before we hit the first oval of the season, I think we could easily see as many as seven or eight different teams represented in the top 10 points positions.
Now, if you would, please pass that fork and knife down this way. Steph is going to enjoy watching me eat this crow.