São Paulo (Non) Qualifying Report

Welcome to IndyCar, Mr. Bernard. You have to wonder if Randy Bernard is checking to see if they have filled his former post at Professional Bull Riders. I’m sure that about right now, he’s wondering just what he has gotten himself into.

This was an inauspicious start to what is a critical season for the Izod IndyCar Series. With a new CEO in Randy Bernard, a new title sponsor in Izod and a lot hinging on this season getting off on a high note – they stumbled right out of the gate.

For those that have been hooked on basketball this weekend and have not heard; qualifying for the Sao Paulo Indy 300 did not take place on Saturday as scheduled. The culprit was not weather or severe g-forces in the turns. Instead, you can blame it on the Sambadrome – the area that makes up the main straightaway.

The Sambadrome was built in 1991 for use in the Carnival of Sao Paulo. Apparently, it is used for dancing during the giant festival. Its slick, concrete surface was causing the IndyCars to dance wickedly throughout the two Saturday morning practices. When cars turned onto the main straightaway and put the power to the wheels to simply drive straight towards the start/finish line, they looked like they were dancing on ice.

Not only did it cause less experienced drivers like Milka Duno and Ana Beatriz to suddenly veer toward the wall while going straight, it also helped the more talented veteran drivers like Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, find the wall. It soon became apparent to Brian Barnhart that some significant changes needed to take place before attempting qualifying. They decided to postpone qualifying until Sunday morning, so that they could grind down the slick straightaway in order to give it grip Oops!

I don’t fault Barnhart for making the decision just before qualifying. Given the circumstances, he made the right call. You don’t want to ship back a bunch of torn up racecars next week, with the US debut in just two weeks. The start of the race alone could have resembled something out of a bad movie. Instead, the wrong call was made back in the fall, when that same track surface was deemed to be adequate for racing. Whether it was Tony Cotman, who designed the layout is the one who said it would work – it ultimately falls on Barnhart’s shoulders to give the final approval.

This is what happens when things are rushed. Last November, the odds were that this race wouldn’t even take place. Nothing had been announced and the league left themselves less than five months to throw this thing together. One of the details that was apparently overlooked was the raceability of the track surface. A lot of the track surface was actually repaved recently. The very long backstretch that all the drivers say is way too bumpy was recently resurfaced. I’d hate to see what it looked like earlier.

But the Sambadrome part of the track was dubbed race-worthy by someone. Patrick Stephan from Trackside Online took a walk around the circuit on Friday and mentioned how slick that section was. If Patrick showed concern on his first inspection of the track, why couldn’t the “experts” be alarmed about the potential for problems?

It seems like I’ve made this statement several times throughout the offseason, but – the league didn’t need this. The series has a well-earned reputation for being mismanaged and making poor choices. All this does is give fodder to the detractors who already use the league as a punch line.

Sometimes, things just happen that no one foresaw – you learn from it and you move on. This isn’t one of those times. Had the league done their homework and not acted expediently – this could have been avoided. The grinding is supposed to take only twelve hours – and that’s on short notice. Why couldn’t they just go ahead and grind it down properly last month?

I don’t believe for a minute that someone didn’t think this might be a problem. I think they looked at it, suggested doing something about it but the city was probably reluctant to deface their slick Carnival surface. Instead, someone made the wrong decision to kid themselves into thinking it may not be a problem. Brian Barnhart is always fond of using the term “unintended consequences”. Well, what happened Saturday is the unintended consequence of ignoring a potential problem.

Successful leaders like Roger Penske got where they are by anticipating anything that might go wrong, and defusing a potential problem before it ever has a chance to happen. They did not get where they are by ignoring red flags and hoping a problem wouldn’t surface. That is why the Indy Racing League has egg on their face before the first race has even run.

Enjoy the race – if it happens.

George Phillips

33 Responses to “São Paulo (Non) Qualifying Report”

  1. Another great victory for the Indycar series….

  2. Real drivers could handle it. If you can practice on it you can qualify on it. If you can qualify on it you can race on it.

    Teams and drivers who can’t afford to take risks with equipment could have babied it through that area and lined up where their times told them. Those who wanted to gamble could push for the fast 12, 6 or the pole and chanced starting from the back on a repaired car.

    They run qualifications spaced out anyway so there wasn’t risk of colllision. They would never had more than 12 cars out there at a time anyway, so why not?

    That would still have left plenty of time to change the surface prior to tomorrows race… since they wouldn’t need extra practice and quals before the race it would have left more time than they’ve got now.

    They have been grinding and are talking about putting a thin pavement surface overtop. There is a tremendous risk with this because they may be putting the track in a condition where tires shred or where the pavement comes up under race situations.

    Instead of trusting the professional drivers they to do their dang jobs, they are risking making the track totally un-drivable for tomorrow. That is just insane.

    • You must be a DirecTV customer, since you seem to have not seen how difficult it actually was. Normally (and initially, in this case), I share your sentiment: control your slide like Parnelli at Indy in ’62 and use it to make the car go faster. However, when even your best drivers have to short shift down the start/finish straight and are still putting down rubber at low revs in 6th…you’ve got a problem.

      I don’t want to have to lay blame, but I tend to agree with George: this was just ridiculous. As any good CEO would, Mr. Bernard needs to investigate this and have a chat with whoever he finds responsible.

  3. nickh360 Says:

    Lighten up! This race is a major deal for IndyCar! In the home country of a major League sponsor. In the home country of some of the greatest open-wheel drivers – past & present. In a country that is a major motorsports market – with countrymen far more passionate about motorsports than our own country (as a whole). It has serious support of local government. And it’s a major payday for everyone involved.

    Yes, the race was rushed. But what they did in the short period of time is impressive. Was the condition of the front straight down right awful? Yes. But they’ll get it figured out. Who cares if they delayed quals until race day morning. It’s not like this is the first time this has ever happened, even if it was due to weather.

    All in my humble opinion, of course…..

    • nickh360 Says:

      I stand corrected.

      From IndyCar.com: “Fast fact: This is the first time in Indy Racing League history that qualifications have been held on the scheduled race day.”

  4. Andy Bernstein Says:

    Kinda surprising there wasn’t at least a hint of this problem when they ran the two seater down that strip last month.

  5. I think some people need to lighten up as well. This is really not that big of a deal in my opinion either. So, quals had to be delayed, but they were still able to practice and had the repair ready to go when the day was done. On a street course like this that was rushed, it could happen. I don’t think it will affect the quality of the race at all once the concrete is ground. I’m just happy they are racing again.

  6. Andy Bernstein Says:

    So long as the dust isn’t bad.

    Or Ed Carpenter is overreacting, and the rough surface won’t shred the tires.

    Or it doesn’t rain, and the track is coted with a nasty paste as the dust gets wet.

    Here’s hoping for a safe race.

  7. Stephen_P83 Says:

    I agree with the lighten up crowd. It really isn’t a big deal at all. The track has been or is being sorted. Qualifying will happen in the morning and just before noon ET we’ll see a great race. I’m looking forward to it. We didn’t see qualifying today, but we saw the cars on track for an hour. The TV wasn’t wasted. The race will happen. Qualifying will happen. What’s the big deal? Why all the finger pointing?

  8. You know if Indycar had been on ESPN, only a couple hundred people streaming over the internet would have even known this happened…It would have been a footnote on the broadcast the next day. The problem with standing in the spotlight is people see the pimples better.

    After hearing comments about the prep of this section of track it really sounds like there was a “lost in translation moment”. The Sambodrome as it appears today was a completely different surface than it was a month ago when Ana Beatriz drove the two seater up and down it for Carnivale. That night the surface was painted bright festive colors and Ana didn’t seem to have any trouble with grip as she paraded diginitaties up and down in front of the crowd. After that TC probably on an inspection looked at the paint and Said “this has to go, can you grind it off?” Then 15 minutes later on a different part of the track that was being reasphalted, he uttered the words ‘Smooth as glass”. The locals following wanting to do their best then decided that on the front sraightaway, the way to get the concrete “Smooth as Glass” was to polish the surface. And wa la’ a concrete surface as smooth and slick as my garage floor…

    Grooves are being ground this evening and if they can clear the dust away (the next challenge to take care of) the show will go on and 10 years from now TC and BB will be sitting in a bar in shanghai after scouting the town for a suitable route for a new venue, and one of them will say “Do you remember that time back in Brazil…” both will get a good chuckle and reminense about the day RHR won the first Sao Paulo race breaking the TCG/Penske stranglehold on the series and first race for the first woman to ever win a championship in a major closed circuit racing series…

    • Andy Bernstein Says:

      Can’t argue with that. If there was a racing flag for good fiction, I’d be waving it for you.

    • Andy Bernstein Says:

      I guess it was irrelevant to bring up the previous run through the Sambdrome with the two seater. Even though it was Davey Hamilton’s pass in it at 5:00 A.M. on raceday to test the results of the concrete grinding.

      Doug Boles pointed out the concrete concerns among drivers in a Friday article. Thankfully, Brian Barhart’s decisive action corrected the majority of the problem.

      As for fiction, my top ten picks proved to be just that. Other than the winner.

      Best news of the day was that Apex Brazil extended their sponsorship, and our Brazilian broadcast partner (and race sponsor) never aired a higher rated program before today. Great race in every respect.

      • Do you suppose, if they ran another race in brazil in the fall @ another location creating enough interest from BAND in purchasing the broadcast rights for the entire season that those rights might go for more than the $10m a season versus is paying??

  9. Lighten up?

    Are some of you people nuts?

    This is SUPPOSED to be a major league racing series. And major league racing series, are SUPPOSED to be run and look like a major league racing series. Cancelling your 1st qual session of the season, because the track is a piece of crap and is not ready for 230 MPH race cars, isn’t a good sign and not something to build much momentum into the rest of the season with your fans.

    This is just karma, for staging a “race” in Brazil to start your season to begin with. Indy Cars, in its current weak state, have NO BUSINESS “racing” on a city street in Brazil. Not when nobody is watching the races or sponsoring the series back home.

    Indy Car is just taking a promoters big (although not nearly as big as first thought) check and hoping for the best. They could care less if the “race” is any good or not. As long as 40 or 50 thousand suckers buy tickets and the check clears from Apex Brazil, that is all that matters.

    This is what is so royally screwed up about Indy Cars today. Exhibit A is what happened today in Brazil. A hastily and obviuosly poorly constructed street circuit, on another continent, on a network that you cannot get if you have Direct TV.

    Is it any wonder we are in the shape we are in?

  10. I think that George absolutely nailed it. What some of the commenters seem to be missing when they say we ought to “lighten up” is that the problem is not so much that delaying qualifications is a major problem per se. Instead, this issue, and the way it was handled, is so illustrative of the mismanagement of the series over the years.

    George’s Penske reference is particularly apt. Penske got to the top through an absolute commitment to excellence and obsessive attention to detail. “Don’t worry about it–it probably won’t be a problem” is not something who wants to keep his job would be likely to say to the captain. To succeed, you’ve got to anticipate problems and get ahead of them, instead of closing your eyes tightly and assume that things will work out–because while things often do work out, sometimes they don’t.

    Again, well done, George!

  11. Anyone who thinks this is symptomatic of the series being mismanaged is way off base. What other mismanagement has there been recently? The series has generally been very proactive in resolving problems or at least reacted quickly when there have been. This is a street race, not an oval. It is a brand new event with an untested surface. Here is why I think it has been managed well:
    1. A major sponsor would like a race in their market, the market is willing to pay, but it is very short notice. Not going to a paying venue in a major market for a major sponsor would be a bad decision.
    2. There is only a very short period of time to make it happen. They make it happen in that period of time.
    3. There is a problem with the front stretch but the designers find a very fast solution, only causing the quals to be delayed. The series keeps the track open for practice to give the crowd a show.
    A mismanaged series would have no solutions. A mismanaged series would have passed on a good opportunity to make money in a major market for the sponsors. A mismanaged series would also have many other apparent problems. I’m afraid the people who are coming down on this minor problem are doomsayers and are not putting things in perspective. Maybe passing on the event would have kept the problem from occurring, but all looks well now and IndyCars are racing in March!

    • Here, here. It was an unfortunate situation, but what really got hurt? Did this make the headlines on SportsCenter? Or ESPN.com? Or anywhere that isn’t IndyCar-centric? Don’t think so. If the race doesn’t happen at all? OK, that’s a fiasco, but that’s not what’s happening. We’re going to have a race today, and there’s a decent chance it’s going to be a good one. Alex Freaking Tagliani is on the front row in the first race for his new team, after all. Relax. Enjoy the race.

  12. Like I said…”Scary Spice”
    The arrogance of it all is just so …third rate.
    Hard-up in America is just not our standard!
    Glad that Graham Rahal is back at home.

    TK looks old and fooish in his Brazillian commercials and who needs these imposters?

    • Nonsense. Every last word. “Imposters”? Who are you talking about? *TK* looks foolish? How about people that can’t string three words together to make a coherent thought in blog comments? Does that look foolish?

      Go away.

  13. imjustsayingisall Says:

    I agree George, there is no excuse for “discovering” this lack of friction at the eleventh hour. It shows just how little focus there is, where a great deal of focus should be mandatory.
    Do you mean to tell us that literally no one, safety folks, owners, DRIVERS et-al, had noticed this problem prior to yesterday…. It is mind boggling.

  14. Tom Jones Says:

    “We’re going to have a race today, and there’s a decent chance it’s going to be a good one.”

    Yep. This was a classic motor race. One of the best I have ever not seen.

    This whole weekend has been a collossal joke and another black eye for the sport. Everything about it, has sucked.

    Hopefully nobody even realized the race happened, and St. Pete can be better. Of course, it couldn’t get much worse.

    • Huh. That’s funny. The IndyCar race I watched today was incredibly exciting, came down to the last few laps, and seven different teams were represented in the top-8. There was a stoppage for excessive water on the track, which led to it being a timed event, but I’d hardly say that that means that it was “a collossal joke and another black eye for the sport”. If it “couldn’t get much worse” than what we had today, then we’re in for the best season of motor racing in the history of the entire sport.

      If this was one of the “best you have ever not seen”, then what’s your deal? If you didn’t see it (presumably because you don’t have Versus), then I’m not sure why you’re commenting on the quality of the race and the weekend.

  15. Speedgeek-

    I told you Will Power could win this race-
    Guess what?
    He did!

    • Oh, but he had to work very hard for it.
      As for the weekend – this happens sometimes as seen in both F1 and NASCAR in recent years. In the end, it turned out that the race was a very, very good one.

      • Amen, Leigh. This is a race that people will talk about for the rest of the season, and probably much longer than that. And for the right reasons, too. Hallelujah! It’s racing season again!

  16. No entitlement parade for the winner of this race?
    No champagne?
    Very poor sportsmanship especially when Will Power has such a recovery story.
    Congratulations to William Power, he deserved to win.
    Very Happy for the out come of the week-end, considering the lack of care and concern for these drivers.
    I expect that Izod can do better in Florida.
    Hoping that GR will win! Will be there to see it myself!

  17. I had lot of reservations when this race was announced. And when they had issues yesterday I really feared the worse. But I have ot say, I agree with Leigh and Speedgeek. I was entertained. It was an exciting race. These drivers continue to impress the hell out of me. This was not an easy surface to race, even if the weather was perfect. But throw in the downpour, and changing conditions, and I would have expected a “festival of carbon fiber”.

    Instead, it was a very clean race, with some good passing, and a deserving winner. No fuel mileage lottery. Power may just be the best street ciruit driver in racing today. RHR had another impressive race, just like St. Pete last year. I am excited to see what he can do driving good equipment for the same team all season. And who could have predicted Meira in 3rd for Foyt?

    Bring on St. Pete!

    • You know, I’m almost sad that Brazil was on Versus and St Pete is on national. Brazil would have been a stunning opener to have on natioanl.

      • Stephen_P83 Says:

        You’re right Leigh, what a great race that was. IICS put on a show that was light years ahead of the F1 opener from Bahrain earlier today. I feel pretty sad for the naysayer fans who can actually complain about this race with a straight face. It was a great show. Maybe some of the “fans” can realize now why some people prefer street/road courses over ovals!

  18. I have to eat my words, in the end the race was great. An exciting race, much, much better then NASCAR’s Fontana/Vegas race.

    • Nice bit of humility dylan.

      Hopefully in the future the league will keep in mind the Potential for racing at a temp curcuit, not just the size of the check.

  19. SG-
    Be kind -rewind.
    Also give Randy some credit!

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