By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
Author’s note: This is part of a 10-part series discussing tracks around the world that I feel would be a good fit for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The opinions here are expressed solely of the author and not necessarily of the Motorsports Tribune.
While the Verizon IndyCar Series had a brief stint racing on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the racing was everything that you wanted it to be.
The 2.535-mile street circuit, set in the Santana district of Sao Paulo featured a mix of 90-degree corners with some passing points as well the longest straightaway on the series calendar stretching alongside the Tiete River.
The race debuted in 2010 as part of a nine-year agreement. It got off to a slippery start as the frontstretch had leftover paint from a festival that took place just a few weeks before. The track was ground down and qualifying got underway just hours before the start of the race. The race was largely dictated by rain and featured a late duel between future series champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power.
Hunter-Reay, in his first race for Andretti Autosport, led 20 of the race’s 61 laps but fell into the clutches of Power with just four laps remaining.
The long straightaway set the stage for one of the best battles in recent series history in 2013 between Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden.
Sato made his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda 5 lanes wide while holding off a charge from Newgarden before Hinchcliffe rose to the fore on the final lap. After several attempts to get by Sato on the straightaway, the Canadian performed a perfect crossunder move on Sato’s inside to take the lead with just over 300 yards to go and take his second career win.
Despite large fan turnouts the 2013 running proved to be the last time that IndyCar would race overseas. Construction near the race circuit threw a wrench in the plans for the 2014 running. Rede Bandeirantes met in Indianapolis to inform INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles that the race would not continue.
However, BAND was contractually obligated to find a suitable venue to host the race for the remainder of their contract and INDYCAR officials reminded them of that. Communications remained open throughout the last half of 2013, but nothing materialized. BAND was also behind on their sanctioning fee payment as well.
Nothing was resolved and INDYCAR eventually filed a lawsuit against BAND. The parties eventually settled after nearly a year of deliberation.
INDYCAR and BAND teamed up once again a year later to host the 2015 season opener, this time at a natural terrain race circuit – the Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet in Brasilia. This race started off promising as the track was planned to be renovated in preparation for the race. The race also signed up Itaipava Beer as a sponsor.
That race never came to be as it was canceled just six weeks before the proposed race weekend. Rumors had been swirling around for nearly a year fueling speculation that the city was not willing to pay for renovations to the track, which ultimately proved to be the stake in the race’s heart.
With all of this drama and background in mind, why should IndyCar take a third look at Brazil?
The answer is quite simple, there is something compelling to sell that people there would buy. Brazilians Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan are two of the series most popular drivers and would only bolster ticket sales. The fan reaction to when Kanaan took the lead in the 2013 Sao Paulo 300 is a testament to that.
As far as a venue goes, the street circuit in Sao Paulo is a proven good venue both from a logistics and a racing standpoint. The aforementioned road construction did not effect the circuit layout, so the same layout could possibly be used. Sao Paulo is also the most populous city in the Americas and is the wealthiest in Brazil.
If the street circuit is not an option, another possible venue is the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, also in Sao Paulo. The track is home to the Formula 1 Brazillian Grand Prix for much of the last half-century, but recent developments have indicated that the race is in doubt for the 2017 Formula 1 season.
If Brazil is dropped, IndyCar could see an opportunity to come in for a smaller price than Formula 1. Also factor in that with Felipe Massa’s retirement and Felipe Nasr’s future possibly in doubt at Sauber, the series could be void of Brazillian drivers. IndyCar does not have that problem, which gives them a little bit more leverage.