After winning the 2010 IndyCar season opener in Sao Paulo, Brazil last year, Penske driver Will Power is the favored driver to win the 2011 race set for noon this Sunday. Power qualified on the pole for last week's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach but finished in tenth place. The No. 27 car of Mike Conway finished in first at the 37th annual race in Long Beach, California followed by several familiar faces in the IndyCar racing circuit.
With Long Beach behind them and only a month until the Indianapolis 500, the IZOD IndyCar Series teams are headed to Brazil for the Sao Paulo Indy 300. The 75-lap race is a homecoming of sorts for several drivers with Brazilian roots including Tony Kanaan, Raphael Matos, Ana Beatriz, Helio Castroneves and Vitor Miera.
Castroneves sits 14th in the standings and didn't finish in the top five of last year's race. Meira, however, grabbed a third place victory at Brazil in 2010, his first race back after a serious crash at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 left him on the sidelines for about a year.
"It's a very special race for me because I was injured and that was my first race coming back," Meira said. "It was the first race of the season with Foyt, Bowden at home in Brazil with my family. It doesn't get any better than that."
Meira and other Brazilian drivers know the track well from racing there many times and feel that the environment in Sao Paulo is unlike any other with crazed racing fans that add to the overall race-day scene.
"It's certainly a unique place," Castroneves said. "[There's] a long straightaway, a lot of opportunities for passing and the crowd is contagious so it's really cool. You just need to be smart to be in a good strategy there and obviously have a good set up.
Though looking for his fourth Indianapolis 500 win in May, he did not see the success he was looking for last year at the Streets of Sao Paulo. The No. 3 car driver finished in ninth place at last year's 300. Castroneves will be looking to stay out of the way of fellow Penske teammate Will Power who he crashed with at last week's Toyota Grand Prix, knocking both drivers out of contention for one of the top five finishes.
Coincidentally, none of the Brazilian drivers competing in Sunday's 300 have won a major open-wheel race at their home track. Starting out the year with 64 points after three races, Vitor Meira is still winless in 117 career starts. He finished third at Sao Paulo last year, reaching a podium finish for the 15th time in his career.
It's safe to say that drivers are to expect the unexpected at the extremely narrow street course in Brazil. Justin Wilson described the race as inconsistent where drivers were constantly changing positions all over the board where only one driver finished in the exact spot he started in (Castroneves qualified ninth, finished ninth).
"Anything can happen and it did," Wilson said of last year's 300. "I think it was kind of like musical chairs, we were all circling around going from the front to the back to the front and when the music stopped I was in eleventh."
With a track that has a mile-long straight, Scott Dixon believes this is exactly what racing needs and like most, cannot wait to get back to one of the most unique tracks in all of auto racing.
"The track was rough and the straights were extremely long," Dixon said. "I think it was the perfect scenario for great racing."
The No. 34 car of Sebastian Saavedra will start the race from the pole position, Sunday, his sixth IZOD IndyCar Series start and fourth on a road/street course. The biggest concern for most drivers going into the race is the new instated rule of double-file restarts which have benefits in making it easier to pass, but can also cause over congestion which led to the crash between Power and Castroneves at Long Beach.