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In Indy 500, Brazilians Bring Respect for the Past While Making History

Indianapolis autodromeBrazilians have always expressed a deep appreciation for the long (now 100 year) history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and are beginning to share a growing appreciation for the way they are contributing to its history on the track. 

I’ve so many times had to re-calculate the perpetually stunning accomplishments for Brazilians here since 2001 that I often feel forced into flirting with overkill. I won’t bother with recounting their exploits here.

The IMS track opened in 1909 but the first 500 mile race wasn’t run until 1911, so the centennial is a three year affair. Given the delayed first 500 and the fact that the race was suspended during the two World Wars this will be the 93rd edition.

While all Brazilians at Indy owe a debt to Emerson Fittipaldi, I remember how amazed I was in 2003 when the Brazilians in particular paid homage at press briefings to Tony Hulman, who resurrected the venue after World War II and current owner Tony George.

Gil De Ferran, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Felipe Giaffóne, Airton Dare and Vitor Meira each offered words of astonishment and admiration for the foresight and determination of the Hulman and George families over the years.

The younger Brazilians are also awed but see Indy in a slightly different light. While their predecessors recall Emmo’s groundbreaking victories here the dreams of many newer arrivals have been fueled by the exploits of Brazilians more generally.

For Kanaan, who years ago rode to victory two days after his father passed, racing is therapeutic, and as the crown jewel of racing, that power is magnified at Indy. “This is our cure,” he says “There’s not a better place for me when I have a personal problem.”

Predictions: Look for Mario Morais and “2009 Fastest Rookie” Raphael Matos to press Castroneves, Briscoe, Franchitti and Kanaan early on, and if one or both of them can avoid misfortune, finish in the top 10.

Meira is my dark-horse to win; no contender has had a better start-finish differential since he arrived here in 2003. But Castroneves is the odds-on favorite and everyone will be watching Kanaan, the first driver ever to have led in each of his first seven 500s.

Romancini’s Freedom 100

If anyone had any doubts about Mario Romancini prior to this Friday’s Freedom 100 they were very quickly dispelled. Romancini, who started 18th, made an emphatic statement when he blew by seven competitors on the first lap.

“All month we had all had a right rear tire problem so I knew we had to have some under-steer to compensate for that” said Romancini, who was at a loss to explain the additional speed he found come race-day.

“It really helped that I was able to pass on the high side today” he noted, but added that he was unable to overtake 2nd place finisher J. R. Hildebrand and winner Wade Cunningham on the high side because they simply had quicker cars.

The stands were packed, signaling perhaps that this lead-up to the 500 has finally come into its own. The heroics of Romancini heralded a new level of excitement for the race which by media consensus was the most exciting Freedom 100 ever.

Fellow Brazilians Ana “Bia” Beatriz and Rodrigo Barboso had a bit of bad luck, though Barboso, who suffered a mechanical failure following some yellow flagged caution laps, still managed to improve on his starting position with a 20th place finish.

Bia, who is always a serious contender, started from the fourth position but finished 17th after hitting the inside wall hard enough to end her day. “I don’t know what happened,” she said “I know that I had contact as soon as I got too close I went to the inside of Turn 1 and crashed really bad into the wall.”

See the complete starting grid for the 2009 Indianapolis 500 at http://www.indy500.com/grid.

Phillip Wagner, a long-time contributor to Brazzil Magazine, has covered the 500 since 2001. He is the co-founder and director of Georgia based Rhythm of Hope in Brazil, www.rhythmofhope.org, which is actively seeking door support after recently gaining federal nonprofit status. Phillip maintains a chronicle of his work at http://rhythmofhope.spaces.live.com/ and now a Brazilians at Indy blog at http://braziliansattheindy500.spaces.live.com/blog/.

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