Thursday, October 3, 2013

Track Walk: Houston 2013

After a month off, IndyCar is back for the penultimate weekend and final doubleheader of the 2013 season. Helio Castroneves is up forty-nine points on Scott Dixon as the Brazilian looks to win his first career IndyCar championship. Scott Dixon has some work to do but he swept the last doubleheader at Toronto and picked up the $100,000 bonus for the Sonax Perfect Finish award. Entering Houston, all the drivers in the top ten in points are mathematically eligible for the championship. Another $50,000 bonus is available this weekend should someone sweep the doubleheader.

For the first time since 2007, American open-wheel racing heads to Houston for a street race around Reliant Park. This will be the seventh race in the city but only third race on the Reliant Park circuit. From 1998 to 2001, CART ran a race in downtown Houston. Sébastien Bourdais is the only driver to win on the Reliant Park circuit with Justin Wilson, Oriol Servià, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud being the only other drivers to have experience at Reliant Park. Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan have all race in Houston but on the downtown circuit. Dario Franchitti won the inaugural Grand Prix of Houston in 1998. The other three winners at Houston are Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser and Gil de Ferran.

Mario Andretti Road Course Championship
The doubleheader are the final races for the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship. Scott Dixon leads Helio Castroneves by eleven with two races to go. Simon Pagenaud is third, fifteen back. Marco Andretti is third, thirty-six back with Dario Franchitti another ten back. Justin Wilson is five back of Franchitti. Charlie Kimball is eighth, ten ahead of James Hinchcliffe who is one point ahead of his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. Sébastien Bourdais is tenth, a point behind Hunter-Reay and eighty-six back of Dixon. Regardless who wins the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship, they will become the first driver to win the title not named Will Power. Power is eleventh in the road course points and has been mathematically eliminated. He was three-time reigning Mario Andretti Road Course champion.

Indy Lights
Sage Karam leads the Indy Lights point standings with two races to go. He is two points up on Carlos Muñoz. Karam's Schmidt teammate Gabby Chaves is third in the standings four back with another Schmidt teammate, Jack Hawksworth fourth in the points, eleven back.

Peter Dempsey is fifth in points and will be swapping rides with Team Moore Racing's Juan Pablo García. Dempsey will be joined at Team Moore by Conor Daly who will drive the #22. Daly has one win in five Indy Lights start dating back to 2011. Daly is currently fourth in GP3 point standings.

Road to Indy
Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 will wrap up their championships at Houston. Matthew Brabham has already clinched the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship with eleven wins in fourteen races in 2013. Diego Ferreira has second place all but locked up with Shelby Blackstock currently in third only eight points ahead of Spencer Pigot. Scott Anderson rounds out the top five.

In U.S. F2000, Canada's Scott Hargrove holds a forty-four point lead over Neil Alberico with two races to go. Garrett Grist is thirty back of Alberico in third with Wyatt Gooden and Florian Latorre rounding out the top five. The other notable driver in the field will be Alexandre Baron from France. In his series debut at Laguna Seca, Baron won race won and finished third after passing Alberico on the final lap.

Houston Facts
IndyCar qualifying for race one will be taking place at 4:00 p.m. ET Friday. Qualifying for race two will take place at 12:45 p.m. ET Saturday.

NBCSN's coverage of race one begins 3:00 p.m. ET Saturday with green flag at 3:40 p.m. ET.

NBCSN's coverage of race two begins 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday with green flag at 1:40 p.m. ET. Both races are scheduled for 90 laps.

Sébastien Bourdais' two wins at Houston came from fifth and second on the grid.

Standing starts will return for this race weekend as one is scheduled to be used for race one.

Will Power holds the track record on the Reliant Park circuit with a time of 57.405 seconds set in 2007.

Other Tidbits
Race one at Houston will be the first American open-wheel series race on October 5th since 1946 when   1949 Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Holland would go on to win at Lakewood Speedway outside of Atlanta and Tommy Hinnershitz won the only race held at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. The Sunday race will be the first race on October 6th since 2002 when Cristiano da Matta won on the streets of Miami to clinch the 2002 CART championship.

Keep an eye out for any Greenpeace protests. At the Belgian Grand Prix in August, Greenpeace feverishly protested race title sponsor Shell and their arctic drilling. The Grand Prix of Houston is sponsored by Shell. Putting two and two together, I think IndyCar might have to be a little worried. Or Greenpeace realizes how low IndyCar television ratings are and decide it is not worth it to protest to such a small audience.

Here is a list of possible point totals for Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon after race one at Houston. Keep an eye out for a list of possible point totals for after race two in the First Impressions from race one.

I am taking Sébastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson this weekend. I think Graham Rahal will have a good weekend. Scott Dixon will keep his championship hopes alive but he will have his work cut out for him at Fontana. Mike Conway will be a factor all weekend. I think this is the weekend Takuma Sato will shed his summer of bad finishes and start fall with a top ten driving in front of AJ Foyt's hometown crowd. Sleepers: Josef Newgarden, EJ Viso and James Jakes.