Brazilian open-wheel drivers shift

November 21, 2012

Some of Brazil's IndyCar drivers are spending their time off from the open-wheel series racing stock cars back home. It turns out their vacation pastime hasn't been as much fun as they might have expected.

Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan have struggled so far during their guest appearances in Brazil's main stock car series, and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves is expected to face some of the same difficulties when he makes his debut next month.

Barrichello and Kanaan said they didn't expect to be contending for victories right away, and knew that it would be hard to make the transition from open-wheels to stock cars. They also said they knew there would be some rough racing involved, but apparently the bumping and banging they've experienced was more than they expected.

''Next time I'll be wearing a bulletproof vest to the race,'' Barrichello said after retiring from a race this month with a broken suspension because of the multiple collisions. ''I was getting hit in the side, in the back, in the front.''

He had started eighth in the event in Brasilia on Nov. 11, but quickly fell to the back of the pack.

''I went backward because I was getting hit all the time,'' he said. ''It was a tough situation, the other drivers seemed too hyped-up, the race was very hectic.''

The 40-year-old Formula One veteran told his team on the radio: ''They are destroying my car, these guys have no respect.''

Barrichello, who is still negotiating to remain in IndyCar next season, finished 31st after parking his car with 22 laps left.

He was 22nd in his first race last month in Curitiba, where he said the start of the race felt a crowded parking lot.

''I guess I still have to figure out how this racing works,'' he said. ''I didn't expect it was going to be like this. In two laps I think I lost 10 positions because of all the hitting. But I have to look at it as something natural in these races. I can't be too negative about it.''

Kanaan said ''it was very hard'' to get used to the car and said he struggled to adapt to a new driving style. He started only 30th in race in Brasilia, his first in the series, but managed to finish 19th.

''It was a great race, I passed a lot of cars and was able to enjoy it,'' said Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion and Barrichello's teammate at KV Racing Technology last season.

Kanaan and Barrichello, who said they will consider racing full time in Brazilian stock cars after ending their international careers, are donating their winnings in Brazil to local charities.

Castroneves will make his debut in the season-ending race on Dec. 9, at the Interlagos track.

''I'm sure it's going to be a great experience,'' the three-time Indy 500 winner said. ''I'm excited about the opportunity.''

Castroneves owned a team in the series in 2004 and is not completely inexperienced when it comes to stock car racing. He participated in the V8 Supercar series in Australia in the past, as well as in the American Le Mans Series in the United States.

Other Brazilians with a past in IndyCars are also experimenting at Brazil's top racing series this season. Raphael Matos made his debut in Brasilia with a 23rd-place finish, and Vitor Meira, who went from IndyCar to stock cars in the beginning of the year, was 17th in Brasilia. He is 22nd in the 35-driver standings.

The final race of the stock car season in Brazil attracts widespread attention because it awards 1 million reals (about $500,000) to the winner. It is broadcast live by the country's top TV channel. F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve raced in the event last year, finishing 18th.

Former F1 drivers Luciano Burti, Antonio Pizzonia and Ricardo Zonta, as well as former Champ Car driver Max Wilson, who won the race in Brasilia, have been racing in the series for some time.

NASCAR has attracted many open-wheel drivers in the past too, but most with limited success. Among those who have made the change to stock cars in the United States are Danica Patrick, Sam Hornish Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Robby Gordon, Patrick Carpentier, A.J. Allmendinger, Kimi Raikkonen and Villeneuve.

Those who had the most success include Tony Stewart and racing legends Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt.

Among the Brazilians who tried the move to NASCAR are former Formula 1 drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet Jr., who this year has won races both at the Nationwide Series and at the Truck Series, where he is a full-time driver.