The IZOD IndyCar Series Series takes a jaunt to the Southern Hemisphere this week, where Sao Paulo, Brazil offers plenty of wet weather and challenging strategy choices. A torrential downpour last year saw Takuma Sato lead 23 laps, but Will Power and Team Penske’s fuel call proved the right one in the end. It should be a wet, wild weekend, as the Series gets ready for the last event before Indianapolis and the Month of May.
To help you muddle through, INDYCAR Nation’s cabal of writers and bloggers are on hand to give you their fantasy picks via Locks, Drops, & Sleepers. If you’re stumped on your picks, check out our advice below for the Sao Paulo Indy 300:
Paul Dalbey, MoreFrontWing.com
Lock: Simon Pagenaud
This guy is as cool as they come, and I haven't seen anything to suggest that he is the slightest bit frazzled about learning a new course this year. Even though the event is only two days, Simon has shown that he is quick to adapt and doesn't need all three days to get his Honda up to speed (remember both Barber and Long Beach were essentially two-day events because of weather). If Pagenaud can keep his nose keep and survive the first lap (a feat which has proven difficult for many drivers over the past two years), then he should be looking at another solid performance this weekend.
Drop: Simona de Silvestro
Yes, Simona might have had the fastest lap of the race last year, but this year she will show up with the Lotus engine, and unless your name has been Sebastian Bourdais, having the Lotus power plant behind you has been a recipe for disaster thus far in 2012. Simona might be the sentimental pick this week, but getting a top finish on a track that has a straightaway nearly an entire mile long with an engine that seems to be down significantly on horsepower is a tough road to hoe.
Sleeper: Mike Conway
In the previous two races at Sao Paulo, Conway has come home 8th in 2010 (with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) and 6th in 2011 (with Andretti Autosport). Additionally, his AJ Foyt Racing Team stood on the podium in the first running of this event when Vitor Meira brough the #14 home to a third-place finish in 2010. If the larger turbochargers being strapped onto the Honda engines breathe a bit more pep into those cars, Mike Conway has a great chance to quietly walk away with a very solid finish in Brazil.
Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com
Lock: Simon Pagenaud
As impressive as any driver this season, Pags probably needed just one more lap to pull off the upset at Long Beach. He’s absolutely fearless, exceedingly quick, and has shown precisely why he’s been such a highly-regarded prospect for so long. In a weekend that will likely be punctuated by adverse weather, his adaptability and quick learning curve should serve him well here. It will also be enjoyable to see how his Honda machine handles that long straight.
Drop: Ana Beatriz
It might seem tempting to choose Bia this week, given she'll be racing on her native soil, but even in a potentially strong Andretti car, she's behind the curve in terms of seat time. Further, any idea of a homefield advantage can be thrown out when one consider she's never qualified well here (an average of P23). As for the race itself, P13 and a P24 due to mechanical issues aren't a sparkling resume. Perhaps Bia gets it done this weekend, but it's nothing to count on.
Sleeper: Takuma Sato
Taku led here last year, and he seems to relish wet-weather races. After disappointing mechanical issues in the first two races, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team was strongly in contention at Long Beach. Sato qualifies fairly well here, and could have a chance to finish what started in the last race. Of course, staying out of the way of early attrition will be key, as it will be for all drivers.
Chris Estrada, INDYCAR Nation Contributor
Lock: Will Power
The best thing about Will Power’s come-from-behind victories in the last two events is just that – he had to rally from mid-pack in order to get the job done. Heading back to Sao Paulo, where he won in the wet in 2010 and 2011, he has firmly established himself as a threat to win from anywhere. That has to be quite distressing for his rivals and that’s why you have to keep him on your team this week. Also, let the record show that I managed to keep myself from picking Power as my lock for three whole races. I think I deserve a cookie for that. Chocolate chip, please.
Drop: Ana Beatriz
Ana is sure to get a nice welcome home from her fellow Brazilians, but with just one day’s worth of offseason testing with the DW12, she’s also in a tough spot. Andretti Autosport is fielding her entry with technical support from Conquest Racing, so having two veteran teams to help her, plus the attrition that comes with the usual Sao Paulo mayhem, gives her a puncher’s chance. But I’m just not sure about her doing well with so little time to get used to the new car.
Sleeper: J.R. Hildebrand
Hildebrand and Panther Racing have shown good pace on the road/street circuits so far, but at Long Beach, they finally got a nice result to match as their No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet came home fifth. Last year in Sao Paulo, Hildebrand charged from 22nd starting position to earn a P10 finish (his first career top-10 run in the IZOD IndyCar Series) -- if he can get a better qualifying run this time, he’ll be in position to do well again at this track.