By Michael Stucker - Motorsport.com
Construction around the site of the Texaco Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, held earlier this month, caused problems for spectators, members of the press, and some participants. Now it seems it may cause the 2002 edition of the race to be cancelled completely.
Expansion of the George R. Brown Convention Center (which serves as paddock, pits, press, and VIP areas) and construction of a parking garage and new basketball arena for the NBA Houston Rockets caused the loss of the entire viewing area on the southwest side of the race course this year. It also caused some problems with mud in the pits and other areas of the track. Construction of a new hotel is to begin soon, with one plan showing the hotel in what is now the course infield, which is where the hospitality area and midway are now.
It has been in the plan for some time now to redesign parts of the race course, but there may be no way around this construction for 2002. Chris Woolwine, Vice President of Public Relations for the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, said that nothing is yet finalized and that they are "working with CART and the city regarding a new layout. There WILL be a new layout." Because of the time that will be needed to prepare the streets for a new course, there may not be enough time to get everything done by October 2002. According to Woolwine, the race may move to the spring in 2003.
Using Ellington Field, an airfield in southeast Houston, to hold an event similar to the one at Cleveland's Burke Lake Front Airport, has been suggested to the city of Houston, but has been rejected. The race is part of the city's downtown redevelopment program and, as such, must remain downtown.
The Convention Center will remain the base of operations as pit and paddock. The Austin Street back straight will most likely be lengthened as many drivers have requested. However, nothing is confirmed or approved at this point. The Grand Prix promoters hope to make an announcement on the race in late November.