Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Track Walk: Houston 2014

Scott Dixon Returns To Houston Looking to Springboard his Title Defense
After a two-week summer break, the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off it's second half of 2014 at NRG Park for the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader. Last year, Scott Dixon and Will Power split the weekend in what was then the penultimate weekend of the championship. Now, Houston finds it's self smack-dab in the middle of the summer as rounds nine and ten. Power enters as the points leader, 39 points ahead of Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Green flag is at 3:45 p.m. ET each day.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is racing at the Watkins Glen 6 Hours), Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Jon Beekhuis and Robin Miller.

Race Notes
This weekend features two, 90-lap races around the 1.69-mile temporary circuit around NRG Park.
Twenty-three cars are entered. Luca Filippi returns to IndyCar for the first time since Houston last year. He will drive the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Filippi is scheduled to run the Toronto doubleheader next month as well for RLLR.
Race one of the weekend is scheduled to feature a standing start.

Easy-Bake Oven Weather
It will be hot and humid this weekend. Highs are forecasted to be 87° and 90° Fahrenheit this weekend with humidity around 74%, winds around 14-15 MPH and a 40% chance of precipitation for Saturday.

For the remainder of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, all practice sessions will be streamed live online. Great news for all of us.

Does Ganassi Get On The Scoreboard This Weekend?
It took Ganassi until race #11 to get their first victory in 2013. With the amount of races completed nearing double-digit figures, the defending IndyCar championship winning team is still in search for their first victory of 2014. The four Ganassi drivers sit 8th (Scott Dixon), 9th (Tony Kanaan), 13rd (Ryan Briscoe) and 14th (Charlie Kimball) in the championship standings with a total of three podiums between them through eight races.

Dixon won race one at Houston last year and finished second in race two. He provides the best shot for Ganassi this weekend. Kimball finished eleventh and eighth last year while Kanaan had a dismal weekend with finishes of twenty-first and twenty-fourth. Briscoe will be making his first appearance at Houston. Ganassi did recover from it's slow start to pick up five victories in 2013 but how many times can a team rebound after slow starts?

Doubleheaders Downers
While some have excelled at doubleheaders and taken advantage of two races in as many days, others have failed to be able to string together two consecutive successful results.

A week after winning the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay had a weekend to forget at Belle Isle with two did-not-finishes. Going back to last year, Hunter-Reay has only one top ten in eight doubleheader races and seven finishes outside the top fifteen.

Just like his Andretti Autosport teammate, James Hinchcliffe had three bipolar doubleheaders in 2013. The Canadian had finishes of fifteenth and nineteenth at Belle Isle, eighth and twenty-first at Toronto and twenty-fourth and twenty-fourth and third at Houston. This year at Belle Isle, Hinchcliffe had came home in sixth and fifth.

Believe it or not, Will Power's doubleheader track record is less than something to write home about. His win and second-place finish at Belle Isle this year aside, Power failed to finish in the top ten for both doubleheader races in 2013. He finished twelfth in race one at Houston last year before winning race two.

Doubleheader Specialists
For those who struggle, there are those you succeed. Doubleheaders are some's cup of tea.

Mike Conway showed it 2013 doubleheaders were right up his alley when his won race one at Belle Isle and finished third in race two. At Toronto, Conway finished seventh in both races and finished ninth in race two at Houston after a sixteenth in race one. He had an accident in race one at Belle Isle this year and poor tire management in race two but don't overlook the Brit this weekend as Ed Carpenter Racing looks to continue their winning streak.

Sébastien Bourdais had a second and third at Toronto in 2013 and finished eighth and fifth at Houston last year. Bourdais has two Houston victories. They came in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007.

Justin Wilson has always been at the top at doubleheaders. Two podiums, four top fives and five top tens in eight doubleheader races for Wilson. Last year, he finished third and fourth at Houston.

Then there is Scott Dixon. Three victories, four podiums, seven top fives in eight doubleheader races. He is the doubleheader king by a landslide. This could be the weekend he vaults himself back into the thick of the championship picture.

Pro Mazda
After nearly a month off, Pro Mazda returns for rounds eight and nine of their 2014 championship. Spencer Pigot won the first four races but had a pair of eighth place finishes on the IMS road course allowing Scott Hargrove to claw his way to three-points behind. Pigot finished second and fifth last year at Houston in Pro Mazda while Hargrove finished third and twenty-first in U.S. F2000 last year at Houston.

Kyle Kaiser is third in the championship, fifty-three points back. Kaiser had a pair of eighths at Houston last year in Pro Mazda. Neil Alberico is tied with Kaiser for third in the championship. Alberico won race one and finished third in the two U.S. F2000 races at Houston last year. Shelby Blackstock rounds out the top five in the Pro Mazda standings, sixty-eight back of Pigot. He finished fourth and sixth at Houston in 2013.

Fun Facts
This will be the first race on June 28th since 2008 when Tony Kanaan won the penultimate race held at Richmond. Before that race, the last held on June 28th was at Richmond in 2003 and won by Scott Dixon.

Last race held on June 29th was Richmond 2002. Sam Hornish, Jr. took that victory.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

These will be the fifth and sixth race at Houston on the NRG Park configuration. All four previous races have been won from four different positions on the gird. Sébastien Bourdais is the lone winner from pole position. Bourdais won from fifth in 2006. Scott Dixon won from third and Will Power won from ninth last year.

Remember more facts can always be found at the Telemetry Center.

Scott Dixon gets Ganassi on the scoreboard and James Hinchcliffe splits the weekend. Outside of Hinchcliffe, the rest of Andretti Autosport will be average. Sébastien Bourdais gets a podium this weekend. Will Power and Josef Newgarden will also get podiums this weekend. Juan Pablo Montoya will continue to struggle on street circuits but sneaks out a top ten for one of the races after his team works strategy to perfection. Mike Conway gets at least one top ten. Luca Filippi finishes ahead of Graham Rahal in both races. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.