SAO PAULO (AP) — Helio Castroneves can't count on home advantage against rival and teammate Will Power at the Sao Paulo 300 on Sunday.
Castroneves, the IndyCar Series leader, is one of the home-crowd favorites in Brazil. But it's his Penske teammate from Australia who arrives as the heavy favorite to win on the streets of Sao Paulo after capturing all three races at the temporary Anhembi track.
While Castroneves has had the best start of his career after three straight top-10 finishes, he will have to get past the "King of Sao Paulo" to improve his chances of staying atop the drivers' standings following Sunday's race.
"We will try to stop him this time," Castroneves said about Power. "But if we can't do that, hopefully we can at least keep the points lead."
There should be even more challengers to Castroneves' lead this time, as three drivers have won this season. Two of them celebrated victory for the first time — Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the other winner.
"There's been a lot of competition this year, even more than in the past, so it's hard to say there's a favorite for Sunday's race," Castroneves said. "But you can't avoid talking about my teammate as the top contender; there's no doubt he has been really successful here in the past."
Power was hardly challenged in Brazil last year, leading the most laps and winning from the pole position. He also dominated in Brazil in 2011 and in the inaugural race in 2010.
But the Australian has had an unusually poor start to his season on road and street circuits. He is winless in the series since his victory in Brazil last year, 14 races ago. He has had only one top-five finish this year and is eighth in the drivers' standings, 37 point behind Castroneves.
"The first three races have been interesting," Power said. "We've had the pace this year but haven't been able to put it together. I've had some success here at this track, but the competition will be tight. It will be tough to get a good result this weekend."
Power said finishing well in Brazil is crucial to put him in position to start fighting for the championship.
"My mindset for this race is the same as I have every weekend," Power said. "I need a good weekend to score points for the championship and get the most out of everything. I'll do my absolute best this weekend."
By contrast, Castroneves has been consistently fast and running near the front in all three races so far. He enters the event with a six-point lead over Sato, the winner in Long Beach two weeks ago.
"I hadn't even realized at first but this has been my best start to a season ever," said Castroneves, who is still seeking his first series title. "I made a mistake in the first race, I should have won that one. But we have been really consistent."
Castroneves was second in the season opener in St. Petersburg, losing the lead to Hinchcliffe after a poor restart in the final laps. The Brazilian finished third in Alabama and managed a 10th-place finish in Long Beach despite having to make an extra pit stop to replace a damaged front wing.
Castroneves is one of only three drivers with top-10 finishes in all races this year.
The three-time Indy 500 winner hasn't had great success in Sao Paulo in the past, but he has two top-five finishes on the Anhembi track. His best finish was fourth last year. In 2011, he was involved in a series of incidents and came 21st, and in the inaugural race he was fifth.
Being at home, he knows the motivation will be there no matter what.
"Coming to Brazil it's always nice because of the support from the public," he said.
Tony Kanaan is another fan favorite in Sao Paulo, but he still isn't sure whether he will be able to race on Sunday after injuring his right hand in the final laps of the race in Long Beach.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "But I still don't know how it's going to be. We will have to wait until I get in the car tomorrow (Saturday.)"
If he is able to start on Sunday, it will be Kanaan's 200th consecutive race in the series, second only to Jimmy Vasser's 211.
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