SAO PAULO — Qualifying for the IndyCar season-opener on the streets of Sao Paulo was postponed Saturday because the main straight lacked enough grip to make racing safe.
Drivers ran practice sessions on Saturday, giving officials time to try to improve track conditions overnight. Qualifying was rescheduled for Sunday morning ahead of the race.
Drivers complained that the temporary circuit for the inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300 has severe bumps and was dangerous on the slick front straightaway.
The straight goes through a Sambadrome, a stadium-like venue that stretches for about a third of a mile and is the only part of the track with concrete instead of asphalt. It is where the traditional Carnival parades take place every year.
“It’s really slippery over there and it’s hard to control the car,” three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said. “They need to try to fix that somehow.”
The straightaway is where Sunday’s 75-lap race is scheduled to start.
Scott Dixon of New Zealand led both practice sessions, turning the quickest lap in 1 minute, 31.7707 seconds on the 2.6-mile, 11-turn Anhembi circuit.
Australian Ryan Briscoe had the second-fastest time with a 1:31.9731, followed by Tony Kanaan’s 1:31.9753 in front of his home crowd.
The fastest times of the day came in the first session because of colder temperatures. Dixon, Briscoe and Kanaan also led the time chart in the second session, when the heat made track conditions worse.
Drivers began complaining as soon as the first cars went out on the track for the first practice, which officially opened the newly built circuit.
In addition to the bumps, the front straight was so slippery that drivers couldn’t fully accelerate without losing control.
Milka Duno of Venezuela crashed there in the morning session, and Briscoe and Brazilian rookie Ana Beatriz lost control there in the afternoon.
Kanaan said the slick straight and the bumps were making the track dangerous and urged officials to make adjustments ahead of Sunday’s race.
“My main concern is safety,” the Brazilian said.
Defending series champion Dario Franchitti, who briefly ran off the track in the first session, strongly complained of the bumps.
“We knew it was going to be bumpy,” he said. “But this is kind of crazy.”
Franchitti, Dixon’s teammate at the Target Chip Ganassi team, was 17th in the first session with a time of 1:33.8457 and 11th in the afternoon practice with a slower time.
Castroneves had the eighth fastest time with a lap of 1:32.9402, while American Danica Patrick clocked 1:34.7795 and failed to get past 22th place. She spun in the second session.
The straightaway, which also bumps, is the series’ longest ever at just short of a mile and allows cars to reach nearly 190 mph.
Organizers had about three months to set up the track following the announcement that the IndyCar Series would be coming to Brazil for the first time since the CART series raced in the Latin American country from 1996-2000.
The IndyCar Series is trying to carry momentum from a thrilling 2009, when the points lead changed hands a record 15 times during the season, and three drivers reached the final race with chances to clinch the title.
Franchitti secured the trophy by winning the finale in Miami on fuel strategy, finishing just ahead of Dixon and Briscoe in the standings.