HOUSTON -- Simon Pagenaud drew a long breath of humid air after exiting the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car following the standing start practice for Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers.
"Houston is a track where you don't really have any time to breathe," he said. "There's no straight line. You just go from corner to corner, and the bumps put a beating on you. I'm expecting some surprises and lots of action during both races."
The French driver, who won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10, topped the afternoon practice session with a quick lap of 1 minute, 00.1415 seconds on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit. The three rounds of qualifications, including the Firestone Fast Six to determine the Verizon P1 Award winner, are at 11 a.m. (ET) June 28. The opening 90-lap race of the doubleheader weekend is at 3 p.m. (ET) on NBCSN.
Click it: Race 1 qualifying groups || Practice 2 results || Combined results
Like the companion 45-minute morning session -- in which Pagenaud was second quick -- five different teams were represented in the top five of the time chart. The top dozen cars were separated by less than a second.
"This car is a pleasure to drive," Pagenaud said. "The track has been improved quite a bit in (repaved) Turn 1, which is quite pleasant. It looks pretty strong right now. We just need to keep up with the track because the car was pretty much perfect today. If we’re good tomorrow on the red Firestone tires, we should be in good shape."
Ryan Briscoe, driving the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing car with Plano, Texas-based NTT DATA as the primary sponsor, was second quick (1:00.6428). Luca Filippi, who is making his fifth/sixth Verizon IndyCar Series starts this weekend, was third on the lap chart (1:00.6735) in the No. 16 National Guard car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He recorded the quickest race lap in Race 2 at Houston last October.
Drive-ability on the changing surfaces (concrete and asphalt) is a key, according to Filippi, to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six and for a solid race result.
"It would be good to have a car that is fast but, more than all, easy to drive so you can be consistent and drive around the bumps and in the heat; that's going to be tough," said Filippi, who finished 10th in Race 1 and 19th in Race 2 in October in a Bryan Herta Autosport car. "If you can be consistent, it will be important. I like the section (of the track) after the back straight where you have a changing of direction and changes of surface. Where you go from concrete, to tarmac and back to concrete. It's nice and challenging and probably where you can make up the most time from your lap time."
Will Power, who was ninth in the afternoon session and quickest in the morning (1:00.4427), was second overall in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. Power, the championship points leader, won Race 2 last October.
Teammate Helio Castroneves (1:00.6905) was fourth in the afternoon session, while rookie Mikhail Aleshin (1:00.7031) was fifth in the No. 7 SMP Racing car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
A look at the race weekend
TV: NBCSN telecasts both races live (3 p.m. ET on June 28 and 29). Race 1 qualifications (2 p.m., taped) will lead into the June 28 race telecast. Leigh Diffey is the chief announcer. Paul Tracy and Steve Matchett are the analysts.
Radio/web: All Verizon IndyCar Series sessions are broadcast on www.IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR 14 app in conjunction with real-time Timing & Scoring. In addition, the races will be broadcast on IMS Radio Network affiliates, XM 209 and Sirius 213. Paul Page is the chief announcer.
Twitter: @GPHOU, @IndyCar, #GPHOU
Weather forecast: Partly cloudy; highs in the upper 80s both days
Race laps: 90 in counterclockwise direction on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit
Start: Standing start for Race 1; two-wide rolling start for Race 2 … single-file restarts
Pit box dimensions: 35 x 18 feet
Fuel: 60 U.S. gallons of E85 for each race ... Verizon IndyCar Series cars carry 18.5 U.S. gallons
Tires: The Firestone primary tires are the same construction and compound as used at St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Belle Isle earlier this season. The same alternate tires are being used on all street course races this season.
Engines: 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6s supplied by Chevrolet and Honda ... 150 kPa turbo boost for road/street course races; 160 kPa for push to pass (10 pushes for 15-second activation)
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