Ask anyone around racing and they’ll tell you that IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello is a pretty personable guy.
In fact, one of the reasons the Brazilian is having a bit of trouble adapting to his new IndyCar racer on bumpy street courses like Toronto is that it’s out of his character to be impolite, even with a car.
“I am having to be so rude to the car and I am struggling with that,” he said. “I want to draw the best line possible and get to the throttle, and the bumps are boom, boom, boom; and it just gets upset. And that’s why I think the results are not there.”
“I am not blaming the fact that it’s bumpy, but I don’t get the flow of my style ,which is a very polished one, and it’s sensitive to so many things and smooth more than anything else.”
The trend continued on Sunday, where Barrichello just missed a top-10 finish with an 11th place in the Honda Indy Toronto. After 10 races, Barrichello is 16th on points with 183.
The points leader is Toronto race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who took his third consecutive victory of 2012 on the 11-turn, 2.824-kilometre street course at Exhibition Place. The Andretti Autosport driver also leads the points standings after Toronto with 335, followed by the Penske pair of Will Power at 301 and Helio Castroneves on 289. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon is fourth with 281, while James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont. is fifth at 268, driving for Andretti. Drivers get 50 points for a win.
Needing to be rude to his car is not the only difference Barrichello has seen since he joined IndyCar this year, after he wasn’t re-signed by the Williams F1 team for 2012. The veteran raced for Williams in his last two F1 seasons after driving for Brawn, Honda, Ferrari, Stewart and Jordan. In his time at the pinnacle of motorsport, which began with Jordan in 1993, he took 14 poles and 11 wins, and finished second in the world championship twice.
The move across the Atlantic to IndyCar was helped by his close friend and 2004 champion Tony Kanaan, who has raced in the series since 1998, but Barrichello has always been interested in what’s happening in U.S. racing.
“I’m a big fan of motorsport – for me a happy Sunday is having the kids around and just watching races on TV and that’s one of the reasons I don’t want to stop. I just enjoy what I do,” said Barrichello, who is now Kanaan’s teammate at KV Racing.
“Before Tony, I already watched IndyCar, Champ Car and the Indy Racing League. I could have made the decision without Tony, but he did play a big part in it as well.”
At 40 years old and after 19 seasons in F1, it seems almost silly to some to call Barrichello a rookie, even if it is his first year racing in the IndyCar series.
But he completely disagrees. “I am a rookie. It’s nothing like I have ever experienced. I am not happy behind the steering wheel and every time I get to a new circuit, I am struggling.”
Oddly, the new discipline of ovals has been easier for Barrichello to figure out after three decades of competing on mostly road courses.
“Going through this phase of adapting was something else,” he said. “But I am extremely happy with the results on the ovals – it’s a very different thing from the set-up point of view to the driving, following cars and dealing with people on the ovals because they can do different lines in front of you and be friendly, and they can do things to upset you.”
In the first 10 races of 2012, Barrichello’s best result was on the tight 0.875-mile Iowa speedway in late June, where he took seventh. He credits the several days of practice time at the famed Brickyard preparing for late May’s Indianapolis 500 for helping him get to grips with ovals. He did a good job in the race too, leaving the famed 2.5-mile oval as 2012 Indy 500 rookie of the year.
While he raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway previously in F1 when the U.S. Grand Prix was held at the Brickyard between 2000 and 2007, starting the Indy 500 was a different world.
“The best way to describe it is if you go right [F1’s direction on the oval portion] you have 50,000 people watching the race; if you go left [Indy 500’s position] you have 500,000 – it’s amazing,” said Barrichello, who thought the Indy 500 drivers were “crazy” when he watched the races on TV as a young driver.
“There was this huge appeal to doing the Indy 500. The big champions from the past did F1 and Indianapolis.”
The way the IndyCar schedule has played out this year, Barrichello’s only opportunity so far to stretch his legs on a more familiar road course came at the second race at Barber Motorsport Park where he took a respectable eighth while still trying to figure out the new car.
Although both have slick tires, wings and engines, the veteran Brazilian insisted the IndyCar is completely different from his old F1 ride.
“It’s nothing like an F1 car. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different,” he said.
“The brakes here are good but because you have 200 kg extra, it doesn’t stop the way I like it to, there’s no power steering, no tire warmers, and it has a turbocharged engine.”
The car and the circuits aren’t the only differences. One huge thing he’s seen is the openness of the IndyCar paddock compared to F1. But Barrichello is also quick to point out that he is not saying one is better than the other, just that IndyCar and F1 are simply different.
On the other hand, he suggested that if F1 wants to stick when it returns to racing in the U.S. later this year in Austin, Tex., the sport might want to at least consider becoming a bit more American when it comes to fan access, even if it’s just for the one race south of the border.
Whether signing autographs for fans in F1 or now in IndyCar, Barrichello knows the value it brings to the people who pay the drivers’ salaries.
“It’s great for the fans because they get a little closer,” he said.
“It makes your day when you see someone coming with a big smile and saying how good it is to meet you and you see the true pleasure in that. It’s good.”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)