After quite a memorable first run last season, the IZOD IndyCar Series has returned to Brazil and the streets of Sao Paulo. The second Sao Paulo Indy 300 (Sun., 12 Noon ET, Versus) may be a bit different, as multiple improvements have been made to the 2.6-mile street course that saw 93 passes for position last year. Chief among them are getting rid of the bumps that gave drivers grief (but made for some great highlights) all along the track, as well as widening the infamous “S of Samba” that was the location for last year’s first-lap, first-turn crash.
As we head back to Brazil this weekend, I find myself focusing on a trio of drivers (two of them from the homeland): Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe.
For Castroneves, he simply needs to stay out of trouble after being involved in multiple incidents over the last few races; a lot of eyes are going to be on him. Kanaan, meanwhile, is having to man-up this weekend after being waylaid with flu-like symptoms. We know he’s incredibly fit, but how will those bugs affect him in the cockpit – especially in the middle of a 75-lap race?
That leaves Briscoe, who has a knack for letting people know he’s a darn good driver when most everybody thinks he’s done for. Such was the case two weeks ago at Long Beach when he came through with a podium finish. He’s got another chance to do something similar (or even better yet, win) this weekend at a place where he had victory in his sights last year.
For the Sao Paulo mixtape, I tried to strike a balance between Brazilian artists and songs that evoked last year’s proceedings. I ended up getting stuck on seven songs instead of my regular eight, until I remembered perhaps the most bizarre cover I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s at the end of this list and you’ll likely hate me for putting it in, but you’ll have to admit – it’s certainly a different take on a classic Brazilian number.
Album: “Achados e Perdidos” (Quannum)
I first heard this track while I was a student at Northeastern University (an old friend referred me to an indie music website she enjoyed). As soon as it came on, my head was bumping along. The phrase “samba funk” comes to mind with “Guerreiro,” which translates from Portuguese as “Warrior” – an apt description of the racers that are rolling around Sao Paulo this weekend. I highly recommend that you look up a few more Curumin tracks on YouTube; my ears love “Solidao Gasolina,” “Sambajapa,” “Tudo Bem Malandro” and “Compacto.”
Artist: Sergio Mendes feat. Will.I.Am and Siedah Garrett
Track: “Funky Bahia”
Album: “Encanto” (Concord)
A sun-kissed shout-out to Tony Kanaan’s home region…Mendes is a legend in Brazilian music, so he had to be in this batch. In recent times, he’s been working with lots of soul and hip-hop artists. “Bahia” comes from this period and while it’s not a classic like “Mas Que Nada,” the collaboration between Mendes and Will.I.Am creates a bright, colorful groove.
Track: “Dust in the Wind”
Album: “Point of Know Return” (Kirshner)
One of the most unique TV shots of the season came at the start of last year’s race in Sao Paulo. After the Sambadromo had received a quick grind job the night before, the cars ended up creating a giant cloud of dust as they got the green flag and raced toward the S of Samba. On camera, it looked as if they were emerging from some sort of wormhole in the universe, like something you’d see in a cheap horror movie. Of course, seconds later, the horror actually started.
Track: “I’m Only Happy When It Rains”
Album: “Garbage” (Almo)
Let’s face it – street races can be hit-or-miss in terms of excitement. Not only that, if somebody’s dominating the race, they become glorified parades. At that point, it’s on the fans to start up a rain dance and bring down the ultimate equalizer. We may have some of the wet stuff on Sunday (50 percent chance according to Weather.com), which makes this song appropriate. Well, that and last year’s storm that killed the power at Anhembi Park.
Artist: Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Album: “Getz/Gilberto” (Verve)
Considering that this song helped Brazilian bossa nova spread its beautiful melodies across the world, it couldn’t be ignored. I’ll freely admit that there’s no connection whatsoever to the Series with this track. And I’ll also freely admit that I don’t care. This is a classic in every sense. Just listen and enjoy.
Artist: Seu Jorge
Album: “Carolina” (Mr. Bongo)
One of the more internationally well-known Brazilian artists, Jorge has had global exposure as both a musician and an actor (check him out in City of God, a fantastic Brazilian film, as well as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou). Much like Curumin, his music can just lift you mentally. It doesn’t allow you to be bummed out.
Artist: Queen and David Bowie
Track: “Under Pressure”
Album: Hot Space (EMI/Elektra)
As seen last year, this race is a pretty big deal for the Brazilian drivers and their fans. Castroneves, Kanaan, Rafa Matos, Vitor Meira and Ana Beatriz are being counted on to perform well in their homeland and while Meira may have a little less on his shoulders after hitting the podium in 2010, I’m sure they all have butterflies in their stomachs. Add the fact this is the final race before the Indianapolis 500 and indeed, everyone – not just the Brazilians -- is under pressure.
Track: “The Girl from Ipanema”
Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQis9xkYkg0
And here’s that cover I mentioned earlier. You’ll find it either genius or wretched. I hope you’ll get a laugh out of it, but if you send me a threatening letter instead, I’ll understand. Either way works for me.