Editorial

The 'Evil Split' - a Brazilian perspective
by Cássio Côrtes
August 1, 2002

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Can't he go to a T-Car now?

That's what blurted out of my mom's mouth just half a second after she saw Emerson Fittipaldi's Hogan/Penske IndyCar become a fireball dragging along MIS' turn 1 wall at the '96 Michigan 500.

Me, I was much more worried about my hero's health, plus, I was REALLY pissed off with a young Canadian that drove every lap as if it was under white flag. That day, Greg Moore sent Emmo's car into a spin and, sadly, ended His career.

All these reminiscences are not the point here. My point is: it was 1996, the first year after the "Evil Split". That year, like all years before it since Emmo went racing in America - opening a new Eden to Brazilian drivers - my mother, my father, my sister, my cousin and I would stop whatever we were doing on any given Sunday if the PPG IndyCar World Series' machines were racing.

The apparently absurd phrase my mom said six years ago, to me, is not a display of her lack of sensibility. It only shows how much she cared for the outcome of that race. When Emerson slammed against the wall, her first thought probably was: "damn, there go some precious championship points!"

Seven years ago, all my high-school classmates - at least all the guys - were amazed when rookie Christian Fittipaldi (in a Brazilian-flag paintjob car 100% backed by Brazilian companies) almost had a shot at winning the '95 Indy 500. Today, very few people at work knew that Cristiano da Matta could make history in case he won his fifth race in a row at Cleveland. Nobody else from my family watched the Marconi GP either (though my dad asked me at night, "Did that kid break that record?")

What has happened? How come, in such a short period of time, CART went from a major sport in Brazil to almost total obscurity?

There are lots of people to blame. Many of them work on Brazilian TV companies, some labor at CART itself. These people have their share of guilt, but that share is oh-so-small compared to that of the REAL criminal:

Tony George's creation of the IRL.

The split killed CART in Brazil. It happened when IndyCar racing was on its steepest rise. Senna had died: suddenly, F1 lost its appeal (F1 broadcasts had its worst ratings in history in the '95-'97 stint - until Barrichello moved to Stewart in '98 and started to deliver some podiums).

"Seven Brazilian drivers who can win any race, any time". That slogan was wisely used by SBT to promote CART, to a level it made people prefer to watch IndyCars than F1 (even though F1 was - and it still is - on Globo, the country's #1 network).

To begin with, the split changed the name of the sport itself in Brazil. In a Formula-One crazed country, IndyCar racing was always known as "Fórmula-Indy". Being obligated to erase the "Indy" word, Emerson (who owns CART´s broadcasting rights in Brazil) created the name "Fórmula-Mundial", something like "World Formula". It obviously never caught with the public. Initially, people kept calling it "Fórmula-Indy", but TV Bandeirantes, the network that bought the IRL's rights to Brazil, launched a major advertising campaign calling the IRL "the REAL Fórmula-Indy".

It all served to create a huge confusion with the public. Even I can't bring myself to call CART "Fórmula-Mundial" (it really sounds ridiculous); I call it just "CART" (which brings even more confusion among the non-racing public, since go-karts in Portuguese are just "karts"). Nobody calls the IRL "Fórmula-Indy" either, people just call it "IRL" (and its ratings and overall repercussion, except for the Indy 500 - and probably just because Helio has won it back-to-back - are nil).

So, the once wildly popular sport called "Fórmula-Indy" is dead in Brazil. It no longer exists. If you use this term to someone who likes racing (as in, "did you watch the Fórmula-Indy race yesterday?"), the answer is inevitable: "CART or IRL?". There's "Fórmula-Mundial" and the IRL, and nobody seems to care much about any of them.

Neither do the Brazilian companies. Let us not forget, Brazil is one of the world's 10 largest economies. Nowadays, only the Souza Cruz tobacco company, through its Hollywood brand, is investing heavily in American racing (in the IRL, backing Felipe Giaffone). That alone partially explains CART´s current 18-car field (Mexican companies, for instance, back three entries this year. There should be a number at least equal to that of Brazilian-money-backed efforts).

In ´96, when the U.S. 500 was announced to be in the same day of the Indy 500, everybody took sides. Most people were pro-CART, and the CART race got better ratings (this is not actually the point here, but I truly believe CART should have kept the U.S. 500 on Memorial Day for head-to-head battle. It probably wouldn't kill Indy, but it would create great discussions and provide lots of interest from the media every year. The "U. S." would have become a great race).

André Ribeiro´s win at the inaugural Rio race had much, much more repercussion than both Gil de Ferran´s CART titles. Not that Gil´s championships didn't raise interest; they did. It's just that if those conquers had happened in ´95 or
´96, he'd probably have paraded on top of a fire truck with thousands of people cheering him, just like Ayrton Senna did when he won the ´91 F1 title.

My point is, if CART is in a difficult position in the United States, it is definitely breathing with an iron lung in Brazil. The situation is drastic though TV ratings remain high, higher than the USA.

Race

2002 Ratings

Share

Ave. Viewers

Peak Rating

Total Viewers

Mexico

3.8

6.4

4,788,000

5.1

6,426,000

Long Beach

4.1

6.3

5,166,000

6.1

7,686,000

Japan

2.3

9.7

2,898,000

3.1

3,906,000

Milwaukee

2.2

4.2

2,772,000

3.2

4,032,000

Laguna Seca

3.2

5.0

4,032,000

4.4

5,544,000

Portland

3.6

6.4

4,536,000

6

7,560,000

Chicago

3.2

6.1

4,032,000

6

7,560,000

Toronto

4.3

6.7

5,418,000

6

7,560,000

Cleveland

2.9

4.8

3,654,000

4

5,040,000

CART needs to look back to Brazil, so that Brazilian companies can once again look to CART. Then, hopefully, everybody will win again - CART, Brazilian drivers, companies, and all the fanatic "gold-and-green" fans.


Cássio Côrtes is a journalist from Porto Alegre, Brazil, and a major CART fan, as his two black Labrador retrievers - Gil and Hélio - testify.

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