Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2017

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Columnist Brian Hilderbrand: Brazilian drivers put CART on racing map

Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.

Brazilian drivers have won the past three Indianapolis 500s, the past three CART championships and a Brazilian sits atop the Indy Racing League standings heading into Saturday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Tony Kanaan, the IRL points leader who followed fellow Brazilians Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves to the finish line in last month's Indy 500, has a simple explanation for why his homeland has produced so many talented drivers.

"They say it's the water," joked Kanaan, who grew up racing go-karts with two-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves.

"Seriously, the only explanation I have is that we don't have many options in Brazil and motor racing is a very famous sport down there. In America, you have so many options. You have football, you have baseball, you have hockey, you name it. We don't have a lot of options. We have tennis, we have soccer and then we have racing."

They also have tradition, starting with Formula One drivers Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna -- who won a combined eight World Driving Championships.

"With the tradition that Brazilians in the past did so well, a lot of kids they want to be a racecar driver," Kanaan said. "In America, you get that sometimes ... every single kid I meet, they all like cars.

"In Brazil, this is huge so people just put their kids to race -- I was 8 years old when I started. I barely knew what to do and I was already driving a racecar. I think we start very early ... that's the only explanation. It's just a sport that they gave it to us as a gift and we succeed."

Castroneves, who is second in the IRL standings, agreed with Kanaan's assessment.

"We started very early in go-karts like 11, 12, 16, 17 years old," he said. "We're already actually having experience with open-wheel cars so all those mistakes that you might have -- crashing the cars or having a hard time getting up to speed or experience like you are leading and all of a sudden you crash -- we already passed those situations.

"I guess because of that, when you got into a series like this, such a high speed and professional, we adapt in a much better situation than people that do not have much experience."

"As a CART driver, I used to watch the IndyCar Series races at Texas Motor Speedway and TMS was a track that I always wanted to race on because it looked like the drivers were having so much fun," said Unser, 41.

"Texas is a track that is fun and exhilarating but at the same time it can be a little bit scary because you are running so close together at such high rates of speed."

Unser finished second to Jeff Ward in the spring race at Texas last year. Ward's margin of victory was .0111 seconds -- the third-closest finish in IRL history.

Dare, who will be replaced by Jaques Lazier, was to make his second IRL start of the season after finishing 24th in a third Foyt car at Indy.

Busch, a Las Vegas native, slipped from third to fifth in the points standings after back-to-back 15th-place finishes the past two weeks.

"We really almost had one here last July," Busch said of the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track. "I know we finished second, but we kept making adjustments and moving up and making more adjustments and moving up. The car got better all day long.

"That's the kind of run we need to put together here on Sunday. We've taken a hit in the points the last couple of weeks and we need to start gaining on getting it back right away. I really like this place so it seems like we'll be OK come Sunday."

"I definitely like Texas Motor Speedway," Gaughan said. "It suits my style of racing and I seem to do well on the bigger tracks. We have raced here three times -- the first in 2001 when we started 30th and finished second.

"This time last year, we qualified 10th and took first and at the fall event, we qualified fifth and won. Hopefully, we will be able to do it again."

Said will drive the No. 01 U.S. Army-sponsored Pontiac for Mike Wallace, who is filling in for the injured Jerry Nadeau. Jones will replace Larry Foyt in the No. 14 Harrah's Dodge.

Borcheller got more than he bargained for when the team's third rider was not able to compete in the grueling race.

"It was just an unbelievable experience," Borcheller said. "We were anticipating three riders and one of the riders couldn't make it so Buddy and I did 425 miles of the 500.

"There was an 18-hour time limit and we had a problem with the bike that put us down for about two hours. If it hadn't been for that, we would have finished in the top 10."

GAME2003, billed as the largest all-motorcycle event ever in Nevada, will be Sept. 17-21 and will include seven styles of racing, long-distance jumping, custom bike shows, swap meets and industry exhibits. Tickets are available at the LVMS ticket office and TicketMaster.