Brazilian drivers paying close attention to Rio Olympics

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Tony Kanaan planned to go back to his home country of Brazil to see the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro during the two-weekend break from the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

Then his schedule became a bit more complicated with a couple of tests and the Brazilian decided he wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the experience for just two days. But no one will watch the Games -- which had their opening ceremonies Friday and run through Aug. 21 -- with more interest.

“Big-time interest,” Kanaan said on the eve of the Games. “There are mixed feelings there. There are many things that have happened.

“For the racing community in Brazil, for the Olympics to happen, one of the reasons we lost the Indy car race (in Sao Paulo) was because all of the money and funding was going to the Olympics. We lost the Rio track (that hosted Indy car races from 1996-2000, a photo from the 2000 race is below), they destroyed that track to build the villas for the Olympics. Racing lost a lot with the Olympics.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sao Paulo ran from 2010-13 with Team Penske’s Will Power winning the first three races before Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe triumphed in the last one with a pass on Takuma Sato coming out of the final turn. Kanaan finished 10th, 22nd, 13th and 21st in that race.

“Of course I’m biased because I’m a racer, but if (hosting the Olympics) was going to help a lot of things as far as bringing more visibility to Brazil and all that, I’m OK with it,” said Kanaan, who drives the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“But I’m also worried about all the things people have been hearing, are we going to be ready with the conditions? Really the eyes are on us, and me being a Brazilian, I know in the end we always pull it off. We just had the World Cup there and it was OK. And we know how to party, so the opening and the closing will be fine. But what happens in between, I’ll be real curious to see.”

Fellow Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves of Team Penske will also watch on television as opposed to returning home.

“Not just because it’s my country, but because it’s the Olympics,” Castroneves said. “I enjoy sports, especially the Summer Olympics. For me, it’s track and field, swimming, tennis, those are the sports that I love most.

“At the end of the day, you end up finding other sports that you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ I look forward to hopefully all the issues everybody is talking about will end, which I believe every Olympics has.”

An outbreak of mosquito-borne Zika virus prompted some athletes to back out of competing. Reports of crime being on the rise have earned continual headlines. Some stories have also reported that Olympic Village housing has plumbing and electrical issues, among other things.

Other drivers looking forward to watching the Games include Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball.

“I just like the sports,” said Pagenaud, a Frenchman. “It’s such a great show and I love track and field, it’s my favorite thing.”

Kimball will watch when he can.

“The second half of the first week, we’re on vacation and we’ll be somewhere we won’t have a TV or the internet,” he said. “It’s been cool seeing all the Indianapolis hopefuls, especially in the swimming and diving, watching those trials, being at the Natatorium downtown (in Indianapolis). It’s a really cool venue. I’ve swam there a couple of times.

“Watching swimming and diving, and then I really enjoy the cycling. I have a buddy who has a good friend going down there to cycle. And the rowing stuff is really cool.”

Rio 200

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