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