'I'm Bia from Brazil'

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

There are times when, despite the stable of race car stars on the property, the IndyCar Series seems to be Danica, Danica, Danica.

But when the auto racing circus hits Edmonton this weekend, get ready to meet the future.

Bia, Bia, Bia.

She's the new improved Danica.

Ana Beatriz is her name although she says you can call her Bia for short.

Her parents named her Ana Beatriz Castelato Gomes de Figueiredo for long.

GLAMOUR GIRLS

The 23-year-old from Brazil won't be in the same Rexall Edmonton Indy race as country-mates Helio Castrovenes or Tony Kaanan, not to mention American glamour girl and fifth place series-sitting Danica Patrick, but she's headed to town as a coming soon sensation from the Indy Firestone Lights Series which makes its debut here this year.

Beatriz may be better than Danica.

Yeah, right?

There's at least one highly credible voice out there, Canadian Brian Stewart, who stepped up to say just that yesterday.

Stewart has been an Indy Lights car owner for 22 years. He's the man who gave Paul Tracy his start. He's won four Indy Lights Series championships. And he's sent a lot of drivers on to bigger and better things.

"I believe she's better than Danica," he said on the phone from Sutton, Ont. yesterday.

"I won't make any friends by saying that. But that's what I think," added the man who wishes he had Beatriz sitting behind the wheel for him in Indy Lights this year.

"She's a fabulous driver. She won a race last year in Nashville and another race this year, a few weeks ago back in Iowa. She always runs on the pace. She's always up there fighting it out with the leaders not hanging around in fifth or sixth. I think if she can get a ride in IndyCar next year, she'll be right in there with Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and the rest of those guys. She's got the goods."

The first woman to win an Indy Lights race, Beatriz finished third in the series as a rookie last year driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Indy Lights, which sells itself as "the fast track to Indy" has had drivers such as the late Canadian star Greg Moore, Indy 500 winners Kaanan and Dixon and Raphael Matos (last year) as series champions and produced 10 drivers to make it to the Indy 500 and 14 to the series since 2002 including Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh.

But Beatriz comes with a special buzz because Danica came before and has proven she can race with the big boys.

And she's a woman who Stewart swears can out-race Danica?

"It's an honour for him to say that. He's had so many good drivers," said Beatriz on her cellphone from outside Indianapolis yesterday where she spent the day driving go-carts "to warm up for Edmonton."

She says it's difficult to respond to that.

"I'm really honoured every time I hear something like that but I don't know what to say. I'm Bia from Brazil. I'll always be Bia. I'm never going to be Danica ... I hope there is a place for Bia, that's all."

ECONOMIC DEPRESSION

Beatriz probably would have been in the big series this year if the economic depression hadn't hit. But she figures she can get there next year if she can finish strong in the last six races of the schedule.

"I crashed at Indy and we couldn't get ready in time for the next race in Milwaukee so we lost two races," said the driver who moved back into contention in the series standings with the Iowa win.

"We're working on it for next year. My job is just to do well the last part of the season which starts with Edmonton."

She says she has pretty a good idea of what to expect here.

"I know it's really, really fast and physical and very different from any other track we've raced on before."

Beatriz says she doesn't see herself following the trail carved by Danica but the one carved by Helio and Tony.

"Brazilian drivers want to come here instead of Formula 1," she said. "Now with Champ Car and the IRL merger, this is a big series again."


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