With Barrichello, IndyCar won't miss Danica one iota
Rubens Barrichello is looking forward to seeing a lot of the USA this year, and the country's premier open-wheel circuit is looking forward to seeing lots of him.
|Worldwide Barrichello has far more real racing fans than Danica Patrick, so his arrival at the time of her departure was just what the series needed|
The most experienced driver in Formula One history will begin his first full-time Izod IndyCar Series season Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. By September, the Sao Paulo, Brazil, native will have raced in Alabama, California, Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Maryland.
Barrichello, 39, plans on soaking in every mile and not just those logged on the racetrack.
"I don't know America very well, and that's something that I've always had in my mind," he said. "I told my wife I have heard a lot of things that you can ride bikes in the Grand Canyon or camp or rent buses."
There is one stop on the schedule that will be completely familiar: an April 29 race on the streets of his hometown.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said ticket sales for the Sao Paulo race spiked 40% in the wake of the March 1 announcement that Barrichello would be paired in a Dallara-Chevrolet with Tony Kanaan (a longtime friend and fellow Brazilian) and E.J. Viso at KV Racing Technology.
"I hope that resonates over here," said Bernard, who attended Barrichello's first test as an ambassador for the series. "There's going to be some buzz around him. He's a big name in open-wheel racing and very well liked. What was so impressive (was) data we received off blogs and websites. We have a gauge that tells you if it's positive and negative. His was 98.89% positive."
Barrichello, whose Twitter account has more than 1.5 million followers, represents the reversal of a trend of Indy drivers who left for Formula One (notably, Alex Zanardi, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya). Barrichello is the biggest name to come here from Europe since Nigel Mansell, who won the 1993 CART championship.
"Rubens could go sit at his farm in Brazil and drink wine or go to Disneyland or whatever he wants to do," four-time champion Dario Franchitti said. "That he chooses to come here says a lot about the series and where it's going. He'll bring a lot internationally with a huge audience."
In a 19-year F1 career (1993 to 2011), Barrichello logged 11 victories in a record 322 starts and finished second in points to Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in 2002 and '04.
He got up to speed quickly during a two-day test in Sebring, Fla., two weeks ago, posting the third-best speed behind Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
"If Rubens didn't believe that he could win, he wouldn't have come," Kanaan said. "We've got to be realistic about the experience that he's going to have on the ovals, but I don't expect any less than for Rubens to be right on top of the game right away. With his experience and talent, I believe he has very good chances to be fighting for wins and a championship this year."
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the series' other four ovals (which are rare in Europe and Brazil) are only some of the slices of Americana that Barrichello will be sampling this year.
"I actually find myself renting motor homes and just traveling all over because I love the country," he said. "I would love to get to know (it). Last year I got to know New York. Just imagine, I was 38 and it was the very first time I (went) there." USA Today