Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Preview

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After a month hiatus, IndyCar heads to the Lone Star State for the second time this season as they make a return to Houston for the first time since 2007 when they ran the event under the ChampCar World Series banner. The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston is run on a temporary street circuit at Reliant Park which houses Reliant Stadium (home of the NFL’s Houston Texans) and the Houston AstroDome (former home of the Houston Oilers and Houston Astros). This will be the last of the three doubleheaders for the 2013 season.

History of IndyCar in Houston

1998 was the first encounter of IndyCar racing at Houston. The race was run under the CART banner in a different downtown circuit. The event was run from 1998 to 2001. IndyCar racing returned to Houston in 2006 with the ChampCar World Series. The venue was moved from downtown to the present Reliant Park circuit. The 2006 race was the first IndyCar street race to be run at night. Sebastien Bourdais has won the two events that have been held at the Reliant Park Circuit. Dario Franchitti won in 1998 at the old downtown circuit.

Track Layout

The Reliant Park circuit is a 1.7 mile 10 turn temporary street circuit that is basically run on a parking lot. The cars will race around a couple of notable venues, Reliant Stadium and the Houston AstroDome.  The circuit features multiple racing surfaces. 

Track layout for the Shell Grand Prix of Houston (photo credit: unknown)

Stories to watch include…….

Championship Contenders

Helio Castroneves continues to maintain his lead in the IndyCar points standings. Helio has a forty nine point advantage over second place Scott Dixon. Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti are third and fourth respectively seventy and seventy one points behind Helio. The top ten in the points standings are all still mathematically in the championship hunt. The Houston doubleheader can  be a wildcard because only four of the top ten drivers in the points standings have driven on the Reliant Park circuit in either a Lola ChampCar, Atlantics, or the ChampCar DP01 chassis. Those drivers include Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, and Will Power. All four may have a advantage come this weekend.

Homecoming for Super Tex

This will be a home race for A.J. Foyt and his race team, A.J. Foyt Enterprises. A.J. was born and raised in Houston and his race shop is also located in the city. A.J. Foyt Enterprises got off to a fast start to the season with driver Takuma Sato that included a win at Long Beach and a podium at Sao Paulo. Sato was the championship points leader up to Indianapolis. Since finishing seventh at Milwaukee, Sato and the team has encountered seven straight finishes of twentieth or worse. A race in Foyt Enterprises backyard could possibly give the team some motivation and Sato is just as good as anyone on street circuits.

Conway Returns

Mike Conway is back behind the drivers seat this weekend driving once again for Dale Coyne Racing. Conway took part in the other two doubleheader weekends at Belle Isle and Toronto. In those races, Conway picked up a win, a podium, and a couple of top ten finishes. Conway should be in the mix for a win this weekend. Conway has expressed interest in running IndyCar next season, but only on the road and street circuits.

Another First Time Winner?

IndyCar has had four first time winners this season and three have come on street circuits, James Hinchcliffe at St. Pete, Takuma Sato at Long Beach, and Simon Pagenaud at Belle Isle. Another first time winner is a possibility. Josef Newgarden is coming off a career best second on the streets of Baltimore and has had his best races on the street circuits this season. Other drivers that I believe can contend for their first career win this weekend include E.J. Viso, James Jakes, and Simona de Silvestro.

Josef Newgarden will unveil this paint scheme this weekend at Houston. Newgarden is considered a favorite to become the next first time winner in IndyCar. (photo credit: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing)

Still Searching For a Win This Season

Believe it or not, Dario Franchitti has yet to register a win in 2013, but has had solid showings the past several races that has included five top five finishes.

Sebastien Bourdais has also been winless in 2013. In fact Bourdais has not won since 2007 at Mexico City. Bourdais has recorded three podiums and has been the only race winner at the Reliant Park circuit, winning in 2006 and 2007. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Bourdais end his winless streak at Houston.

Sebastien Bourdais drives through a corner in the 2007 Grand Prix of Houston. Bourdais is the only race winner on the Reliant Park circuit. (photo credit: Michel Pascal)

Two drivers in the top ten have also been winless in 2013. Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson. Andretti has relied on a string of top ten finishes that has resulted in his fourth place in the standings. If Andretti wants to be a serious championship contender, he needs to start to get wins. Justin Wilson has had a solid season that has included three podiums and a sixth place showing in the standings. Wilson is one of the drivers that has previously raced at Reliant Park and should be up near the front in the doubleheader.

 

As stated earlier, this will be a doubleheader weekend. Race 1 will be Saturday at 3pm and Race 2 will be run Sunday at 1pm. Both races will be live on NBCSN. You can also listen to the race on IndyCar radio. Check indycarradio.com to see which station near you has IndyCar Radio. Sirius/XM subscribers can listen on channel 211.

For the doubleheader weekend, I won’t be able to watch live as I’ll be at Indiana State University homecoming festivities and may be in Indianapolis on Sunday. I will keep a close eye on the races via Twitter (you can follow me @sklein31). When a upload of the races become available, I’ll watch and give my thoughts in my Houston review.