Below are the More Front Wing team’s first impressions of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
First and foremost: thank God no one was hurt any more seriously. Best wishes to Dario, Kim Tyger (the injured IndyCar official) and all of the fans affected for a quick and easy recovery.
As for my first impression of today, this venue, and the weekend? Not extremely positive, to be honest. Even looking past today’s incident, the track started out a disaster and communication was extremely disorganized. Short of the unthinkable, there’s not much more that could have gone wrong.
Mike Lanigan is clearly a passionate promoter and this is an important race for some major series sponsors, and I can’t help but wonder whether in the absence of those factors this would be a one-and-done.
That said, today’s race was interesting and ultimately went fine in most ways up until the last lap, and an interesting points end game came out of it all. But let’s hope that some serious work is done before next year’s event to ensure that this venue is worthy of a top-tier professional racing series.
Obviously, the prevailing thoughts after this race are with Dario Franchitti and the fans who were injured.
From the standpoint of what went right this weekend, the list is really pretty short. The racing on track was pretty interesting, and there actually is still a points race going into the season finale at Fontana. However, as a fan watching from afar this weekend, this event just couldn’t seem to get done fast enough. From the moment cars were on track Friday through the vicious accident that capped off race 2, the entire weekend came off as chaotic, unorganized, and second-rate. Hopefully the experience in person was better for the fans and participants who battled the grueling heat yesterday.
It was a bitterly disappointing weekend for Helio Castroneves, who came into the weekend with a chance to clinch the championship and leaves with a difficult task at hand to finish off his first title. It will take a masterful weekend for the Brazilian to now overtake Dixon, who needs to only finish 5th or better to claim his third IZOD IndyCar Series championship. It should still make for an exciting weekend in California. Hopefully the events of this weekend will be a distant memory by that time.
My race day: high, low, high.
The day started with high expectations, and the great weather and good racing at the start bore those out. The championship was turned on its ear as Scott Dixon managed to come away from the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston with the points lead, thanks in large part to both his fantastic weekend and Helio Castroneves’s terrible one.
Castroneves and his team inexcusably suffered gearbox issues for the second straight day, and this time it cost him in the form of a 23rd-place finish. Dixon now has 546 markers on the year, while Helio now sits on 521 heading to the season finale October 19th at Auto Club Speedway. Points-clinching scenarios will surely provide fodder for conversation this week.
The low came on the final lap, when Takuma Sato, Dario Franchitti, and E.J. Viso were involved in a horrific crash that tore the nose off of Franchitti’s DW12 and sent parts and pieces flying into Grandstand 4 of Reliant Park. My concern for Dario was exacerbated by the gut-wrenching feeling of realizing that my wife and four year old son had watched yesterday’s race from that exact section of the grandstand. News that Dario was awake and alert provided some salve for my emotions, but we are still awaiting official word on the condition of the fans who were pelted with debris. I pray that they will all receive a positive prognosis as well, and if preliminary indications hold true it looks as though we may have dodged a bullet.
That episode aside, I remain firmly impressed by the fantastic racing that presented itself at Reliant Park this weekend. This has proven itself to be one of the raciest street circuits we visit, and I hope that the series will feel the same way and return to this venue in the coming years.
All of us had chills running down our backs as we saw Dario’s crash for the first time. No one ever wants to see something like that happen. Credit is due to the safety work that has gone into the tubs of these cars and for the safety teams acting on the scene.
As for the race, it was another one filled with drama and impressive driving. Obviously, Power and Dixon were in a class of their own, but it was good to see Hinchcliffe rebound from a horrible day yesterday. While Pagenaud is mathematically out of the running for the championship, he’s had a tremendous season. This one is going to come down to Ganassi and Penske, which is very fitting given the events of the past few months, both on the track and off. The Manufacturer’s Championship will also be decided at Fontana, so that race is going to be oozing with excitement and story lines.
Entering this weekend’s event, Helio had a 49-point lead over Dixon. Two days later, Dixon now leads Helio by 25 points. That’s quite a turnaround for Dixon given that he was 92 points behind Helio in 7th place in the standings after the race in Iowa earlier this year. Helio has just experienced the ultimate gut check. It’s championship deja vu for The Captain, Roger Penske. How will they respond? It won’t be easy, especially when you think about their competition. Remember, he is called the “Ice Man” for good reason.