Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston

The bright yellow Pennzoil paint scheme returns on Helio Castroneves ride this weekend in Houston.  Can he take it to Victory Lane?  [Russ Lake Photo]


Helio, heat and new concrete could be big stories this weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series visits the Lone Star state for the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Castroneves returns to the circuit that brought him and Team Penske hard luck and likely ruined his chances of winning the 2013 series crown.

“We didn’t finish (at Houston) last year because of an issue that was outside our control,” said the Brazilian who finished second in the IndyCar point standings after a 74-point swing at Houston, that favored eventual champion Scott Dixon, lead to Castroneves’ dismal results.  “I’m pleased that they made some changes.”

The problems that needed attention at the 1.69- mile, ten-turn Reliant Park temporary street circuit had to do with the track’s surface that damaged Castroneves’ gearbox when his car bottomed-out in both events, causing him to finish 20th and 23rd.

Changes to the course include repaving areas where bumps damaged cars. Those portions of the track were demolished for the upcoming race and were smoothed with new concrete according to the track’s director of operations Martin Thake. Some surfaces were ground down and areas that were breaking up were repaired.

And the track does need to hold up since the event, featuring two 90- lap, 153- mile races within 24 hours, has been moved from its usual spring/fall dates to the hot Texas weather of early summer; a fact not lost on drivers and their trainers.

“The better the body is conditioned, the better the body adapts to the heat,” noted Jim Leo, the owner of Pit Fit Training in Indianapolis. “The minute you start getting dehydrated, you start losing concentration, and that’s something you can’t allow in a race. The moment you get thirsty, it’s too late.”

So, with a renovated course, better prepared drivers and Helio again in second-place, this time trailing leader Will Power, what can we look forward to this weekend?

  • The doubleheader weekend will feature standing start races on Saturday and again on Sunday, June 28 and 29.
  • CART raced here from 1998 to 2001 on downtown streets. Champ Car moved to Reliant Park in 2006 (a night event) and 2007, while IndyCar took over last year with a doubleheader
  • Drivers in the field with previous wins here include Power, Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais (2). Team Penske is the only entrant with two wins here, while Target Ganassi has won once. Takuma Sato and Castroneves were the pole-winners in 2013.
  • Twenty-three cars are entered with road racer Mike Conway back in Ed Carpenter’s Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet after Carpenter scored a win recently at the Texas oval. Rahal Letterman Lanigan comes with two cars for Graham Rahal and former Italian F1 test driver Luca Filippi who finished tenth last fall in Houston’s Race 2.
  • Championship point’s leader Will Power won Race 2 here in 2013 for Team Penske. The Australian is the only driver to have finished each race this year in the top 10.
  • Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay has finished first or second in four of the first five Verizon IndyCar events this year. In the latest three races he has finished outside of the top 10.
  • There are four drivers entered who have no track experience at Houston: Mikhail Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Huertas and Carlos Munoz.
  • Dario Franchitti received career-ending injuries on the final lap of Race 2 last year after tangling with Takuma Sato in Turn 5. Fourteen spectators were injured as the Scotsman’s car was launched into the fence sending debris into the stands.
  • Will Power leads Castroneves by 39 points in the championship chase. Hunter-Reay is third (-60), with Simon Pagenaud (-91) and Marco Andretti (-135) rounding out the top five.
  • Chevrolet leads Honda five races to three in the engine manufacturers’ championship race.
  • Teams practiced at Pocono this week, concentrating on endurance as the July 6 race moves from 400 miles to 500 this year.
  • Bobby Rahal was named the Grand Marshal of the Houston event.
  • Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay were nominated for the “Best Driver” award on the upcoming ESPN-ESPY award show on July 16 at 9:00 PM (ET). Fans can vote for their favorite at:
  • NBC Sports will air each Houston race at 3:00pm (ET) on Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast on Sirius 213 and XM 209.



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