Racing and soccer do not typically coincide, but for Brazilian sports fans both are top-notch entertainment, and definitely provide a reason to be “animado,” or very excited as we would say in English.
Josef Newgarden, driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, is traveling more than 5,000 miles south of Indianapolis for the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300, the only IZOD IndyCar Series race outside of North America.
Sao Paulo’s steadfast soccer fans leave no shortage of enthusiasm when they take over the track, according to Newgarden.
“The big difference with racing in Brazil compared to racing in the States is that the fans are very, very passionate,” he said. “It’s almost like racing during a soccer match. They’re super passionate about soccer down there and I think they bring that same sort of energy to the weekend, which is pretty cool. Going anywhere where you have fans that are that appreciative and that excited to have you there is always fun.”
The Streets of Sao Paulo also presents an opportunity for team bonding , as most of the crews stay on the race compound for the entire weekend.
“Last year Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) was supposed to shave his beard but he ended up not doing it, so I slapped him in the face with a handful of shaving cream,” Newgarden said laughing. “I don’t think it made it on the air anywhere but it was on tape, so it’s out there somewhere!”
The sophomore driver can always be counted on for a funny Sao Paulo story, but even more important is Newgarden’s reverence for the street circuit itself.
“I like the track a lot,” Newgarden said. “I like the way it’s laid out, and it’s very different than anywhere else we go. It has the longest back straight that we will go to at any point this year, which is very unique.”
The 22-year-old relishes the challenge the 2.536-mile street circuit brings.
“We have to run very low down force, which is not typical for a street course,” Newgarden said. “Normally on street courses you run a lot of down force, but in Brazil you can’t because the straights are so long. That makes it difficult to balance but I think it’s really fun.”
In his rookie season, Newgarden qualified ninth and drove the fastest lap of any competitor before making contact with a wall that cut his race short. The second year star hopes to take what he learned last year and use it to his advantage.
“We have a great setup that I think will start the weekend on a good note,” Newgarden said. “It is straight from the setup we learned and developed last year. If anything we just need to do a good job of scoring solid points because I know we will have a good car.”
Newgarden is hoping for a solid result in Brazil that would give his team positive momentum heading into the next IZOD IndyCar Series race, the Indianapolis 500.
“Momentum is a big deal and Indianapolis is coming up right afterwards, so momentum coming into Indianapolis right after Brazil is crucial and we have to do a good job there,” he said.
The Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 will air live on NBC Sports Network beginning at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 5. For updates from the No. 67 car follow @SFHRIndy on Twitter.