Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix: Let's hope for a happy ending

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Tight, tough track, damp weather, hot and humid conditions could make for a long weekend

It’s weird, these doubleheaders, especially at a place like Houston, where shortly the first of two Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston IndyCar races will take the green flag. IndyCar shows up once a year, on this temporary street circuit in the shadow of still-(barely)-standing Astrodome, and you have to explain what’s going on.

Yes, there are two races. No, Saturday isn’t a preliminary for Sunday. They are equal. Certainly NASCAR would never run a Saturday Sprint Cup race, followed by an identical Sunday Sprint Cup race, so it’s entirely understandable that many in attendance might assume that Saturday is a warm-up for Sunday.

“Warm-up” may be the key phrase here. Simon Pagenaud, polesitter for race one, said that he expects drivers to “fall out of their seats” by the end of the races, and much has been made in the media of how critical it is for drivers – not to mention crew members and fans – to properly hydrate. Easier for crew and fans, less easy for drivers who frequently note that there’s no shade in the car, and more important, there’s no place to rest on this tight little track that take less than one minute per lap.

It was frightening Friday to watch Will Power’s car launch off a curb, then Jack Hawksworth’s car launch and hit the wall. And Tony Kanaan high-sided his car on a curb. And this was one-at-a-time practice – to what extent these curbs will play into the actual race remains to be seen. I took a couple of laps in the pace car Friday, and this is a narrow, rough track, and seeing the trajectory of Hawksworth’s car – clearly marked by rubber from his tires – and I think that the drivers will have some time to rest, during the yellow and possibly red flags.

Still, the drivers are praising the promoters, who spent well over $1 million since last year on the track itself, for a much-improved facility. “This is a very raceable race track,” Pagenaud said. “They have done a very good job preparing it.” Of course, he said that moments before rain began falling in the middle of the SR Ford race. Rain is unlikely for Sunday, but could be a factor today, and then all bets are off.

Houston and IndyCar would live nothing more than to have a major-incident-free weekend, not erasing the memory that this is where Dario Franchitti’s career ended last year with his crash, but dimming it. Shell and Pennzoil’s deal ends this year, but there is an option for a third year, and they’d certainly like to continue backing their hometown race. So let’s hope for some solid competition.

And expecting both races to go green-white-checkered is too much to ask, but let’s hope nobody gets hurt.

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Commentary
Tags indycar, pennzoil, shell