The IZOD IndyCar Series rolls into the Streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil this Sunday for the Sao Paolo Indy 300. There are a couple of major storylines as we head into the last race weekend before the Indianapolis 500, chief among them coming out of the Lotus camp. The struggling engine supplier announced this week that it has officially released Bryan Herta Autosport and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing from its stable of teams as a means of freeing up resources for the other two organizations that Lotus still has under contract (HVM Racing and Dragon Racing).
This inevitably means that BHA and D&RR will be forced to scramble to work a deal with either Chevrolet or Honda in time for the Indianapolis 500. On a bit of a brighter note, funding seems to be funneling its way through to some smaller programs. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing announced that driver Josef Newgarden will have sponsorship for the Indianapolis 500 from Dollar General, the same company that backed SFHR for the balance of 2011. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also made big news this week, announcing that they have worked a deal with former CART standout Michel Jourdain, Jr. to race in the Indianapolis 500 with primary sponsorship from Office Depot Mexico.
*Track Preview: Sao Paulo*
Located in the Santana neighborhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the circuit is an 11-turn, 2.536-mile temporary street course that is characterized by long straights and a pair of technical stop-start sections. The circuit debuted in 2010 as IndyCar’s first foray outside of North America or Japan. Penske Racing’s Will Power has been dominant at this track, sweeping both the 2010 and 2011 races in stunning fashion. The 2011 race was completed on a Monday after heavy rains forced what was originally meant to be a Sunday event to be postponed after 14 laps of racing.
*What’s the Points (Driver Standings):*
Will Power has a sizable, 24-point advantage over second place Helio Castroneves on the strength of back-to-back victories at Barber and Long Beach. Sitting a surprising third place in the standings is the ever-versatile Simon Pagenaud, who has collected 100 points thus far. Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe round out the top 5 in the standings with 96 and 95 points apiece.
*What’s the Points (Engine Manufacturers):*
Chevrolet has opened up the 2012 season in style by winning the first three races. The Bowtie Brigade has a comfortable nine-point advantage over second place rival Honda. Lotus is a distant 15 points behind Chevrolet in third place.
*Featured Driver: Josef Newgarden*
It has been a whirlwind season for 21-year-old rookie sensation Josef Newgarden, and despite sitting an uninspiring 22nd in the point standings, young Newgarden has shown flashes of brilliance all season, culminating with an impressive second place grid start at Long Beach. For those not familiar with the young Tennessean, Newgarden is the defending Indy Lights series champion, and after thoroughly dominating Indy’s AAA series in 2011, Newgarden got the call to move up to the big leagues in 2012 from veteran owner/driver Sarah Fisher. Newgarden is unusually poised and quick for his age, and you can expect to hear his name quite a bit this season as he continues to acclimate himself to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Keep on the lookout this week and next for more news about potential driver/team combinations for the Indianapolis 500. Jean Alesi is expected to have an announcement soon about whether or not he will be running in this year’s 500. Michael Shank Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and Bryan Herta Autosport all will have major adjustments to make in regards to their plans for the race as well. Stay tuned.
The Indianapolis 500 is the next race on the schedule after Sao Paulo, and you can be sure that the teams will be working at a frenetic pace to get their cars ready in time for Opening Day on May 12th. Qualifying will take place on May 19th and 20th, and the month’s festivities will culminate on May 27th for the 96th running of the World’s Most Famous Race. This year’s event will have the added intrigue of a brand new car that has never been raced before on an oval, and thus it is anyone’s guess as to how the race will play out. While the absence of defending champion Dan Wheldon will be overwhelming to say the least, hopefully the race will be half as exciting as last year’s event that saw leader J.R. Hildebrand wrecking in the last turn of the last lap, with Wheldon making the pass for the lead coming to the yard of bricks to win his second Indianapolis 500.
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