Understandably, Helio Castroneves is pleased that organizers of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers have corrected a bump/dip in Turn 1 of the temporary circuit.
The veteran Team Penske driver could point to that location on the 1.634-mile layout as impinging his 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship aspirations during the doubleheader event weekend in October.
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“I’m very pleased that they made some changes,” said Castroneves, who enters the June 28-29 event at NRG Park second in the standings. “We didn’t finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control. What’s in the past is in the past. This is a new season and it’s a season that has gone very well for us so far. I put 2013 out of my mind as soon as we crossed the finish line at Auto Club Speedway. This Shell/Pennzoil Chevy team has not let last year affect them either. Now, would it be sweet to win one of these races this weekend? Absolutely. And not just for some type of vindication, but also because we are in the backyard of Shell/Pennzoil.”
Shifting issues brought about, according to Castroneves, by the car bottoming out in both races impacted 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.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” said Castroneves, who saw a 74-point swing to Scott Dixon’s favor entering the season finale at Auto Club Speedway two weeks later.
Two weeks ago, Will Power was joined by Takuma Sato and Mikhail Aleshin to ceremonially place the final concrete barriers of the course. Each said the course in an expansive parking lot of the Reliant Stadium/Astrodome complex “is challenging.”
"We surveyed the area in February and established the perimeter of where the bumps were and totally demolished that part of the track and repaved with new concrete," director of operations Martyn Thake said. "We had some smaller bumps between Turns 9 and 10 and we ground those down about an inch to 1½ inches. We also ground a couple of small places here and there and did spot repairs, including in pit lane.
"We had some areas that had some surface break up and we fixed those as well. We have an advantage with these temporary courses in that we can make improvements and do retro fits every time we build it."
Two 45-minute practice sessions (10 a.m. and 2 p.m. local) are scheduled for June 27. The three rounds of qualifications for Race 1 are at 10 a.m. June 28, with the 90-lap race at 2 p.m. (NBCSN). Qualifications for Race 2 are at 10 a.m. June 29, followed by the race at 2 p.m. (NBCSN).