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IndyCar: Grand Prix of Houston double-header preview

Photo: Chris Jones

 

The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston will mark the second of three doubleheaders on the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Drivers will contest a pair of 90-lap races Saturday and Sunday on the 1.69-mile temporary street circuit at NRG Park.

With wins at St. Petersburg and Belle Isle, Will Power (Team Penske, Chevrolet) finds himself atop the season point standings. The Australian claimed a win in the second Houston race in 2013 and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in every race, so far this year. He also holds the lap record in Houston, 57.405 sec (105.545 mph).

Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport, Honda) finished first or second in four of 2014’s first five races, including the biggest win of his career at the 98th Indianapolis 500 on May 25, but he has struggled of late with three straight finishes outside of the top-10. 

Sebastien Bourdais returns to MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway with KVSH Racing (Honda) in search of his third win on the NRG Park street circuit. The four-time Champ Car champion has finished in the top 10 in each of his starts at Houston, including a fifth-place finish last season. IndyCar has rescinded a season-long probation it placed on Bourdais after the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

This year’s Grand Prix of Houston will be the fifth Indy car race at NRG Park. Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi, Chevy) and Power split the doubleheader races at the track last year, Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Enterprises, XXX) and Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) taking the two poles.

Castroneves was disappointed by his 2013 finishes, however, and is glad some changes have been made to the circuit. "I'm very pleased that they made some changes," said Castroneves, who enters this weekend's event second in the standings. "We didn't finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control. Hopefully we'll continue what we're doing and continue on to the championship."

Gearbox issues brought about, according to Castroneves, by the car bottoming out in both races affected his results. In the opening 90-lap race, he entered the pits on Lap 24. The crew made speedy repairs and got him back on the track in seven minutes. Re-entering the race nine laps down and in 20th place, Castroneves finished 18th.

"It's tough, but it's something that's out of our control. I tried to earn as many points as I could and really just focus on making the car better (for the second race)."

The next day, Castroneves detected a vibration with every gear shift after only a handful of laps. The car came to a stop on the course and was towed to the Team Penske prep area, where the crew again replaced the gearbox and sent him back out 36 laps down. He placed 23rd, earning the minimum eight points.

The Houston races will be the seventh and eighth on road/street courses in 2014. The first six races were won by Will Power (St. Petersburg), Mike Conway (Long Beach), Ryan Hunter-Reay (Barber), Simon Pagenaud (Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Will Power (Belle Isle-1) and Helio Castroneves (Belle Isle-2).

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