Granja Viana 500

Kannan takes the win: 644 laps & 500 miles!

500 Miles to Glory:
Brazil’s Granja Viana 500

ext to the Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix, it’s the biggest race in a country that’s mad about motorsports. And the best part, it’s a kart race! The “500 Milhas De Kart Granja Viana”, or Granja Viana 500 Miles of Karting, draws as one contender said, “everybody who’s anybody in South American racing”: Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fellipe Massa, Antonio Pizzonia, Tony Kannan, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, Christian Fittipaldi, Vitor Meira, and many more. But it’s not for a million dollar check, just bragging rights. It’s an event! Four days of intense practice build-up to Friday’s group qualifying and “Super Pole” sessions. Saturday features a fourhour final “warm-up”, before the midnight start underneath a laser light and fireworks show that rivals any Super Bowl half-time show. Officially, the track is called the “Karto`dromo Internacional Granja Viana”. As you drive into the track location, it somewhat appears to be a prison camp with its control tower and razor-wire fence. However, it is one of the finest and best-known karting facilities in South America. The multi-configuration track is owned by the family of IRL driver Felipe Giaffone. Granja Viana is an industrial/lower-middle class suburb of Sao` Paulo, a city of over 17 million people. The layout chosen for the Granja Viana 500 is used only once a year for this event. It comprises a sixteenturn layout that incorporates about
Rubens sprays the photographers as Kannan and Giaffone prepare to soak the Ferrari driver.

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every possible combination of corners: fast, off-camber, slow hairpins, downhill esses, high banking, and more. The overall length comes in at .776 of a mile. From an abrasive standpoint, the surface is average. There are some interesting asphalt to concrete transitions and a couple significant bumps. The most ‘influential’ bump is more of a true jump, which forces two to four wheels into the air. It comes at the end of the downhill esses before a hard-braking point for a left-hand hairpin. The track is built on a cut-out hillside, which adds to the beauty and challenges with many rapid elevation changes. It is not extremely physical to drive, some drivers did almost 2.5-3 hour ‘triple fuel stints’, and it does allow you to find a driving rhythm. 2004 was the eighth year of Granja 500. The event is technically a charity race, which supports a children’s charity. However, to the average competitor it presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race side-by-side with current Formula 1 and Indycar stars. For the world class drivers, it’s a chance to compete in your motorsports roots for nothing but fun and those all important bragging rights. “It’s such a great event,” said Kanaan, 2004 IRL champion and

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The track almost looked like a prison camp.

four-time Granja 500 winner. “You might not think a kart race would be a big deal, but this gets live TV (in Brazil). It gets better coverage than the entire IRL season gets in Brazil.” This was the second year of the current one-class single engine format. The karts are not what you would expect from Formula 1 caliber drivers. The engines are 13HP Honda 4 cycles that run a shoe clutch. Engine ‘blueprinting’ (with modifications) is allowed; however, due to the rulebook being in Portuguese, it is difficult to comment on the extent of modifications, and most drivers did not know to what extent the engines were modified. The top speeds were in the mid-60 mph range, and most of the top teams had up to ten engines for their two or three entries to choose from.

Felipe Massa checks to make sure his teammate is still there. The trackside advertising was extensive.

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Granja Viana 500
The field of seventy-four teams consisted essentially of three chassis models: Kart Mini (a 100% Brazilian manufacturer) was the most popular choice, Birel (of Brazil), and Fittipaldi Racing Karts. versus karts typically used in the U.S. There were some minor differences; however, the most significant difference was the large one-piece fiberglass bodies. These bulky bodies, primarily used to expose the major corporate sponsors of most teams, require some additional mounts and modifications to nerf bars and bumpers to mount. MG was the official tire and a major sponsor of the event. MG AZ

Carrapatoso (73) and Meira (18) show the effects of 11 hours of racing.

Kannan leads the pack to the pits after qualifying.

(reds) tires were the spec rubber for the event. This 60 durometer rated tire, which is promoted on MG’s website as consistent, durable, and economic provided an appropriate median between grip and endurance. Most teams were using only one set for two days of practice, a new set for qualifying, and only two to two-and-a-half of sets in the 500 mile race: a true testament to the durability of the MG’s. The first seventy-four entries paid $3,500 US each to be part of the spectacle. After that, entries are sold on the “karting black-market” for up to a rumored $17,000 US. On an average, a team budget would be

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Granja Viana 500
approximately $11,000 US to run the event (this did not include capital assets such as engines). Most teams had four to six drivers, and aside from the fifteen or so teams with “superstars”, average karters made up the majority of the teams. The top and most experienced drivers, such as the team leader of the defending champion’s team: Christian Fittipaldi, drove in both of the team’s entries throughout the course of the event. At the invitation of WR Motorsports, the U.S. importer for MG tires, NKN attended the Granja 500 to see this spectacle of karting firsthand. This was my first trip to Brazil and my first overseas exposure to karting. Needless to say, there were a thousand questions I had about the event, karting in Brazil, and most of all: why are there so many darn good drivers from Sao` Paulo, Brazil? I arrived on Wednesday morning a little after 8 am. After spending an hour and a half clearing customs, it was straight to the track via a driver Wagner Rossi, owner of WR Motorsports, had arranged. After spending nearly two hours in the car, we arrived at the track just about lunch time. For any doubters, there is a God; the track has a sit-down restaurant with cheeseburgers, french-fries, and Pepsi. While sitting on the restaurant’s deck overlooking turn 1 of the track, I received my first exposure to practice for the 500. The sound was that of over-grown rental/ fun karts; somewhat disappointing considering the hours of European racing I’ve watched with ICAs. But then again, they did need to use motors that would last 500 miles and keep the cost under control. Turn one was a flat-out hard right that swoops downhill, about a 50-55mph corner. This was the third day of practice, so an obvious groove was starting to appear. As the karts went through that first turn, they seemed quite ‘bound-up’. However, this was the heat of the day, and the race would run throughout the night. Following lunch, it was off to the pits to meet up with Wagner and the rest of the MG team. Their team, kart number 204, consisted of six drivers including Texan Tommy Muth who was taking Wednesday’s practice off to sight see (after all, in the first two days Tommy had seen more practice, 16 hours, than he would have in two years of karting stateside). Quickly, I observed the first major difference in U.S. and Brazilian karting. None of these drivers were touching the kart. They had a “professional” team, GTPP Racing, doing all the preparation and tuning. These guys drove, got out, talked about it, and watched the next guy. The three mechanics and a crew chief did all the tuning (or lack

A sea of karts fight for position to go onto the track for qualifying.

6 am wakeup call. Thursday marked my first full day of exposure to Brazilian karting’s true intensity. While enjoying a light breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I noticed that inside the garage across the street were two karts on the wall. Awesome! Does every house and business here come with a kart? Actually, only about 2,500 people nationwide I was told. Demian Borba, the ‘young gun’ of the MG soon arrived in the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast in his kart suit. Thursday was eight more hours of practice, plenty of time, and this guy was wearing his suit to breakfast. Was he trying to impress the waitress? No. Upon arriving at the track, Demian wasted no time (literally) in getting onto the track. By the time we walked to the pit, Demian had his suit pulled up, helmet and gloves on, and was ready to drive. The mechanics had the kart on the ground and warming up. Less than two minutes from stopping in the parking lot, Demian was on the track: talk about intensity and preparation! On Thursday, most of the big names began to arrive and practice. How cool is it to walk through the pits, at a kart race, and see Montoya, Barrichello, Kannan, and other hot shoes? IRL driver for Rahal-Letterman Racing, Vitor Meira, stopped by the MG Team garage briefly. I had met Vitor a couple of years ago when working in the IRL, and many of my close friends had worked with him at Team

there of) to the karts. For the next four hours, I observed all the teams practice, probably 30 to 35 teams on Wednesday. Christian Fittipaldi was the ‘biggest’ name driver there on Wednesday. And on that day, Fittipaldi’s crew earned their real money; Christian tested all ten of the team’s engines. Engine changes were the only maintenance I saw any team do. For four hours, I never saw a chassis change on any kart! Were these guys that dialed in? Following practice, I returned to the MG garage where their drivers were in a lengthy debrief, in Portuguese. While waiting on them (as we were all staying at the same hotel), I watched the mechanics almost completely strip down the kart to clean and inspect every part. This was somewhat surprising, as most of us Americans would be on a beer run now. In a matter of an hour and a half, the karts were disassembled, cleaned (with gasoline I might add), and re-assembled. With no chassis changes either. After an hour plus ride to the hotel, check-in, and shower it was about 10 pm; dinner time in Brazil. By midnight, my stomach was full of rather bland, but good, Italian food, and it was off to bed before a

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Granja Viana 500
Menard. He’s the real deal. Vitor has a quiet confidence that is displayed in his awesome on track abilities, much like a Rick Mears. In the karts, he looked the equal of any of the F1 drivers. Vitor is an avid karter in the U.S. when time permits. He saw a September issue of NKN I had lying out in the MG garage, and spied the kart on the cover he just bought (the one Derek Daly was driving in the Jordan F1 vs. an ICC story). Practice continued until 5 pm, and once again I observed very few changes to the karts except “cockpit spacers” (drivers). When I asked one of the members of the MG team about this I was told that Felipe Massa’s kart was also prepared by GTPP Motorsports, and they would simply use his setup. Fair enough I guess, after all he’s an F1 driver, but qualifying was tomorrow and the answers would come then. As I said, most of the big names began to arrive for practice on Thursday: Montoya via helicopter, Barrichello via Porsche (ironic for a Ferrari driver). Now we’d see the seas part, and drivers walk on water! Unfortunately, that comment about the seas parting would soon become literal. The skies opened up for the majority of Thursday’s practice. Perfect! Let’s see how good these Brazilians really are. Okay, I’ll quickly end the suspense: they’re really good in the wet! I was shocked at how long they stayed out on slicks (again without changing the chassis). It was not until a downpour that would halt all activities at an American track did the majority of the Brazilian teams switch to rain tires and a rain chassis setup. In conclusion, I would guess it rained three or four inches that day: hard rain, consistently for hours. Aside from a fourminute red flag to recover a few stalled karts, the action never stopped. And even at the heaviest point of the downpour, racing legends like de Ferran and Castroneves continued to practice. This was practice! Two days before the race when moisture wasn’t even predicted. No whining or swearing, just hard, cold, and wet work. And these guys: Indy 500 winners, F1 drivers, and CART champions all kept practicing at a relentless pace. This is what separates them from most American karters. Thursday ended just as the previous day: debriefings/strategy meetings among the drivers and a complete teardown, cleaning, and inspection of the karts by the crews. I even observed one crew member hooking an air blower directly to the kart’s fuel tank to spray a mist of gasoline to clean the frame and other parts: no smoking, please!

The large bodywork did nothing to lessen the spray!

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Granja Viana 500
As we returned to the hotel, again about 9 pm, Wagner said Friday would be a short, but intense day. As was the case with most teams, the only driver to practice on Friday would be the driver slated to qualify. For the MG team, this would be Demian, the youngest driver on the team and the one who karted most often. Friday dawned with beautiful weather, much to everyone’s relief versus the monsoon on Thursday. It was easy to see the intensity level was escalated a little more due to the pending qualifying sessions. All the ‘guns’ were out: the qualifiers, the team captains, or whatever you want to call the fastest guys on the team. For the non-qualifying drivers, Friday provided a day to recover and relax. I talked with some other American drivers who had been enjoying the nightlife and extensive party scene Sao` Paulo offers. But at the track, it was serious business. Practice was intensified with more teams adding sticker tires and making last minute changes. Focusing on one driver seemed to make the changes more prominent on most teams. For the qualifying session, the field was divided into two groups: One of 34 and the second of 38. Drafting, or bump drafting, is an essential part of a good lap at Granja Viana. Finding a teammate, friend, or competitor that you were about equal with made the difference between a top 20 or bottom 25 start. In the first session, current IRL Champion Tony Kannan and Ferrari F1 pilot Rubens Barrichello exemplified teamwork! The two Brazilian drivers worked as one, and posted the top two times of the day at 56.992 and 56.994, respectively. With an identical time to Kannan in third was the #28 Petrobras kart of Juan Pablo Montoya; the younger Montoya, Federico, was only one thousandth of a second slower. Amazing, the top four were separated by only three thousandths of a second! Fifth fastest were the first ‘normal humans’ of the #82 team; posting a time of 57.079. Sixth was the second Felipe Massa Team at 57.252. Just outside the top ten, and therefore eliminated from the “Super Pole” round was the defending race champion Christian Fittipaldi.

Christian Fittipaldi gets a push to his pit!

Defending champ Christian Fittipaldi worked hard all week.

Agecom was a large team and race sponsor.

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Granja Viana 500
Wagner Rossi and his MG team persevered for a 16th place finish.

Everyday, Barrichello seemed to have a freshly painted body. Demian Borba of the MG Tires team.

A rare sight: A Ferrari F1 driver working on his own ride!

Marco Andretti in practice (note the old body). Rubens calms his son after taking him for a lap in the 2-seater. …And they just kept practicing, no matter how hard it rained.

Turning a lap without traffic was difficult. 2004 IRL Champion, Tony Kannan.

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Wheldon didnʼt want to get his helmet wet, so he wore Kannanʼs spare. Vegasʼs Matt Jaskol in practice. This guyʼs got an NKN visor strip; he gets his pic in the Mag! (Hint)

Fittipaldi.

Dan Wheldon.

Moreno and a teammate drafting in qualifying.

The “Paddock” was a fully catered hospitality suite for race sponsors.

Red Bull Sauber F1 driver, Felipe Massa.

Demian Borba in the spec ICA “support” race finished 4th. Yes, the only color duct tape sold in Brazil is silver.

Kannan takes the win: 644 laps & 500 miles!

Negre and Barrichello discuss the Kart Miniʼs setup.

Ferrari F1 Pilot and hometown hero, Rubens Barrichello.

Roberto Moreno.

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The pits were crowded and wet on Thursday.

Granja Viana 500
Also, in the first round of qualifying was the MG Tires team. This team was the perfect example of having to find a drafting partner. On a solo lap, Demian was for sure a top ten contender; however, in the 30 minute qualifying session, he struggled to hook up with someone of the appropriate speed to put together a serious run for the top ten. Following the chaos of the two rounds of qualifying, all karts were impounded for inspection. The top ten were set aside, and less than 20 minutes later were wheeled back out to the grid for “Super Pole”: A one lap on the clock qualifying run that would set the top ten for the Granja 500. Starting with the tenth place driver and ending with Kannan, each of the top ten karts set a mark in single lap qualifying. The suspense built as the times dropped, until it was Barrichello’s turn. As was the case with the Brazilian Grand Prix two weeks earlier, the Brazilian set a quick time to secure the pole and the first bragging point for the event. Following Barrichello were the two Montoya brothers and the Felipe Massa Team kart. At this point, the top ten karts would report to post tech and the questions would begin. It was rumored that Barrichello’s kart did not pass tech. However, no one who spoke English could (or would) confirm this. A couple of other karts that didn’t pass were penalized between 10-20 starting positions. There are some perks to being the most popular athlete in your country. The race was all that was left. Well, the race and a four-hour warmup. Saturday was like a day-off since we weren’t leaving for the track until 1 pm This left a little time for sight seeing. The local mall, which was about the size of the Mall of America, housed a museum called “The Senna Experience”. The late world champion is a god in Brazil. There are still murals, posters, and graffiti displays honoring Senna all over Sao` Paulo. If visiting Sao` Paulo, and you are a race fan the Senna Experience is a must see. It has
NKN getting some visor strip love!

An overview of part of the track and the “Monza” corner.

memorabilia from this remarkable driver’s career from karts to Formula 1. We got back from the Senna Experience just in time to pack a quick bag and leave for the track. After all, we were going to be at the track for about the next 24 hours. The goal of the four-hour warm-up was simple for the teams: get every driver some time in the kart and get the crew a chance to practice pit stops. Unfortunately, this plan did not work out for the MG team we were following. Tommy Muth, from Texas Karting, was entering the hairpin after the “jump” when

Turn 12 (center) in the wet.

Engines couldnʼt be started before the yellow tires. “Follow the F1 driver”: Massa leads a gaggle of karts in qualifying.

Ted Tackett and I were happy to get driverʼs meeting instructions in English.

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2003 Indy 500 Champion Gil de Ferran. MGʼs presence was huge: teams and tires!

Weʼre definitely not in the U.S.!

the driver in front of him lost control. Tommy had nowhere to go, crashed, and bent the spindle, tie rod, and broke the steering wheel hub. To make matters worse, as the mechanics were pushing the damaged kart (on its stand) into the pits, a driver lost control and crashed into them! Luckily, both of the mechanics only sustained minor injuries; in fact, within 40 minutes they were both back at work! At first, I was very impressed with the safety personnel on the scene. The track had two doctors ready at all times. There was adequate fire, ambulance, and emergency personnel on hand. Additionally, the track had a permanent “Infirmary” for first-aid. At 8 pm practice concluded, and the next four hours were spent with final preparations and all the pageantry of a major auto race. A spec ICA style race preceded the main event. This ‘rent-a-ride’ race, about $475 US, used an older Birel chassis (with cable brakes) and a Brazilian made copy of the Sudam 125cc engine. This 25 lap sprint race was exactly what one would expect from “foreign” karting. It had jeopardous passes, a flip, and every driver was driving as if they were auditioning for a Formula 1 ride. Shortly after the conclusion of the Spec ICA race, the 74 starters for the Granja 500 were wheeled onto the main straight. As a 15minute flurry of fireworks went off, the drivers practiced running and jumping into their karts for the Le Mans style start. The grid had the atmosphere of an Indianapolis 500 or a Grand Prix pre-race. When the grid girls gave the “3 minute notice” the grid cleared except for the drivers, and exactly at midnight, 74 drivers raced to their karts for the start.

To the delight of the approximately 2,000 spectators on hand, Rubens Barrichello (72) took the early lead. Less than 20 minutes into the race, a light mist began to fall. At the end of the second hour (lap 120), the #28 Petrobras kart of Juan Montoya was leading over the #102 of Allatere Racing (an unknown team who was strong all weekend). By this point of the race, Barrichello and the #72 team had lost a lap due to pit stops.

American Matt Jascal drew a lot of attention with his well deserved podium finish.

While getting coffee with another fellow American at about 2 am, we heard this enormous crashing sound on the mainstretch. Two drivers had crashed, hard. One had spun coming onto the fast long straight, and the other tboned the spinner. The man doing the t-boning was severely injured. The injuries were at the moment life threatening. The driver had a severely broken right leg, and worst of all a collapsed airway. The doctor and medical personnel were rather quick to respond; however, as competitors continued to race by at 60+ mph, one could only pray another driver would not end up crashing into the rescuers. About 20 minutes later after the driver was stabilized, a MASH 4077 style stretcher was brought out to haul the driver to the waiting ambulance. It’s 2 am, there’s trash all across the straightaway, and a driver is injured. This situation only called for a local yellow that was half-heartedly observed by most of the drivers. This situation was idiotic in my opinion. A full course yellow or red flag should have been instituted. Fortunately, the medical crew performed their job flawlessly and saved the injured

Above: The top ten qualifiers in the impound area. This Photo: The twin Biland 2-seater was a popular ride for sponsors & media.

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Wagner Rossi and Helio Castroneves. Barrichello and Kannan joke for the Brazilian TV.

driver’s life. The race resumed, but I guess it never really slowed down. When the second 120 lap stint ended at around 3 am, the #73 and #72 karts of Castroneves and Barrichello, respectively, had a lap advantage on the field. Our friends from MG had recovered from a first-lap crash and were running 38th, 12 laps down.
Kannan nears the finish, and it shows…

Las Vegas’s Matt Jaskol. Jaskol showed true American spirit driving five or six stints straight while his teammates were asleep or fatigued. Jaskol brought the #91 Loctite kart up to fourth place! When the final 100 laps started, Castroneves and the #73 Mobil team held a lap lead until what should have been their final pitstop. With De Ferran in the car for only 15 laps, the 2003 Indy 500 champ, was forced to pit with extremely sore ribs. The lead was relinquished to Kannan in the team car #72. American Matt Jaskol, was forced to hand over the #91 to local hero and longtime F1/CART driver Roberto Moreno to take the checkered. Moreno fell to seventh, but due to attrition, moved to the sixth and final podium spot. Nothing changed among the leaders in the last hour as the #72 Shell kart of Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kannan, Felipe Giaffone, and Dan Wheldon won the Granja 500. The team kart #73 of Castroneves, De Ferran, Osvaldo Negre, and Rubens Carrapatoso was second only 23 seconds behind. Third was the #1 of Christian Fittipaldi, Mario Haberfeld, and Charles Fonseca. “We faced initial problems, but we could manage to overcome them,” said Barrichello. “I have to thank my fellow drivers. They did a very good job and achieved a welldeserved victory. I think we had two great moments this weekend. Sitting on the pole on a single lap for each of the top 10 qualifiers was also superb.” Sneaking on to the podium in sixth (after Jaskol was running 4th) was the #91 Loctite team of Roberto Moreno, Allan Helmelster, Nono Figueiredo, Jader David, and American Matt Jaskol!
(L to R): Wheldon, Giaffone, de Ferran, Negre, Barrichello, Carrapatoso, Castroneves, and Kannan in kart. Heavy traffic was evident even in the last 50 laps.

Barrichello in early race traffic.

Fortunately, at this point (and after being totally surprised by the accident scene), it was my shift to sleep. When I rejoined the living a little after 6 am., the top three had remained somewhat stagnant: #73 Mobil (Castroneves, De Ferran, Negre, Carrapatoso) was still leading, the #1 Fittipaldi was second, and the #72 Shell (Barrichello, Kannan, Giaffone, Wheldon) was third. However, the most significant thing to happen during my nap was attrition. By the leader’s lap 360, only 55 karts were active on the track. Engines, chains, clutches, and brains began to fail during the late night. Many of the karts in the pits would rejoin the race; however, the most notable kart out of contention was that of Juan Montoya. Montoya officially withdrew from the race shortly thereafter, and exited in his chopper. Also at around this hour, many pitstops for tires were occurring. The MG AZ tires had worked superbly through the night, as this was most teams’ first tire change. For the next four hours or 240 laps, very little changed. The most inspiring drive for the “Old Glory” waivers was the driver of

The Felipe Massa (seated in #19) Team.

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Granja 500 had consumed the lives of these drivers, teams, and media. For the next week, we all would recall our memories. These feelings are similar for drivers and crews at another 500 mile race, about 5000 miles north in Indianapolis. “This was awesome, to fight all night side-by-side with these guys, and then to go up on the podium with Barrichello, Kanaan, Fittipaldi,” exclaimed Jaskol. “This was definitely a life moment, and I want to come back next year to climb even higher on the podium.” The podium celebration looked like Le Mans with about 20 drivers searching for a place to stand for photos, and a place to hide from the champagne. Following the presentation of the beautiful trophies and the shower of bubbly, there was a sense of “what do we do now?” Castroneves had the best answer, “This was really awesome, but right now all I want is a shower and to stay away from the kart for a while. “My IRL team (Penske) was not very happy with my decision to race here, and asked me to only talk about it if I had a good result. I think they will be happy with my second place”. It’s an unequaled event in karting; unequaled in “star power”, endurance, and strategy. For the past week, the

THE RACE’S TOP TEN:
1 – Rubens Barrichello-Tony KanaanFelipe Giaffone-Dan Wheldon, 644 laps in 10h36min53s431; 2 – Hélio Castroneves-Gil de Ferran-Osvaldo Negri Jr-Ruben Carrapatoso, at 15s639 3 – Christian Fittipaldi-Mário Haberfeld-Charlie Fonseca, 637 laps 4 – Clemente de Faria-Felipe GuimarãesRodrigo Piquet, 637 laps 5 – Wagner Ebrahim-Nathan Silva-Bruno Bari, 634 laps 6 – Matt Jaskol-Roberto Pupo Moreno-Alan Hellmeister-Nonô Figueiredo-Renato Jader David, 632 laps 7 – Rogério Raucci-Paulo Navarro-João VisetiMunir Aboissa-Michel Aboissa-Átila Abreu, 631 laps 8 – Marcello Dias-Rafael Daniel-Thiago CamiloNorberto Gresse, 630 laps 9 – José França-Renan Goffredo-Hermes Moreira-José Raul Girondi, 630 laps 10 – Osvaldo Badula-Mário Maia-Rogério Garcia-Eduardo Abrantes-Bruno Miloni-Rafael Frigeri
Matt Jaskol turned some fast laps to bring the 91 to the podium!

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