FIRST IMPRESSIONS: 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, race 2

First Impressions, IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on June 29, 2014 6:50 pm
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The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston is now complete and delivered a wild weekend of racing at NRG Park. Here are the More Front Wing crew’s first impressions of race 2.

STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

What a wild race that was — but in a good way in my opinion. There are so many stories to track that my head is spinning!

Primary among them is that today’s racing was just flat out the best we’ve seen on a street course in a while. Guys were finding opportunities and going for them all over the place. The one who stands out in my mind from today’s event was Juan Pablo Montoya, who was unrelenting in going wheel to wheel with guys years younger than him on lap after lap in very tough conditions. Anyone who doesn’t find him to be a major asset to the series needs to have a rethink.

I know this will be an unpopular opinion in some corners, but I also enjoyed Race Control’s return to a hands-off approach in judging contact situations in passing maneuvers. It’s been a point of discussion that the team there has struggled to find consistency, and this weekend felt a bit more like the sort of approach they were taking at the beginning of the year, which I enjoyed. If that becomes the standard, I’ll be happy with it. (The Marco Andretti penalty notwithstanding, of course, but that was an entirely separate type of issue not really related to this discussion. More thorough dissertations on that can be found here and here on More Front Wing.)

This opinion does also extend to the Castroneves/Bourdais incident, by the way. It was amazing how similar that situation was to that of Sato and Aleshin yesterday — same turn, same type of move and all — the primary difference being that Aleshin was a lap down and Bourdais was not. My view was that Castroneves didn’t block but rather was just moving himself into the normal approach while Bourdais thought he saw a wide open door and was safe to take it, so it was totally fair to call that a racing incident in my opinion.

It was impressive to see Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports claim a 1-2 finish, especially after the brake issues that Pagenaud and his team reported yesterday (which were addressed by Brembo, IndyCar’s braking system supplier, in a More Front Wing article here). Possibly even more impressive was having rookies occupying four of six available podium positions — there may not be any better demonstration out there of the competitiveness of every driver in this series (apart from Carlos Huertas claiming a win, of course) — and seeing Jack Hawksworth gain 20 positions on the day to wind up 3rd.

If the series can carry this high momentum on to next weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway, we’ll all be better for it. We sure do have a lot to talk about between now and then!

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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

I hesitate to even start writing a First Impressions piece because this race was so crazy I don’t even know where to start. This race literally had everything — passing, bumping, moving up, moving down, impressive drives, and some bonehead moves.

My initial reaction is that if you didn’t enjoy this street race then you just aren’t going to enjoy any of them. The action in the middle of the race, especially when Montoya and Hawksworth and several others were battling for position, was absolutely riveting. To see the young English rookie battle tooth and nail with a former CART champion and seven-time F1 winner was worth the price of admission. Hawksworth prevailed long enough for the red-tire advantage Montoya held to become equalized, and he was rewarded for his efforts when Will Power fell out of the race from 3rd position late in the going, giving Hawksworth his first career podium finish.

It was another impressive day for all the rookies in the field as fellow rookie Mikhail Aleshin also earned his first career podium, coming home second behind teammate Simon Pagenaud. For the weekend, rookies claimed four of the six podium positions, proving once again just how impressive the Verizon IndyCar Series field is from top to bottom.

Speaking of Pagenaud, with rumors swirling throughout the weekend of the interest Andretti Autosport has shown for the Frenchman to join that team for next season, Simon certainly added value to his stock with another fantastic performance. Pagenaud has somehow continued to somewhat fly under the radar this season, but his ability to do so much longer is becoming more and more difficult with each passing race. Pagenaud is quickly becoming one of the stars of the Series and is probably only an oval win away from solidly placing himself among the top group of title contenders.

While the doubleheader this weekend didn’t see the dramatic shake-up in points that we’ve seen in other twin-bill events, the 500 miles at Pocono are just around the corner and the Series may be in for another massive points shakeup next weekend.

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JOHN’S IMPRESSIONS:

The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston saw super-close racing (Hawksworth-JPM-Kimball and Aleshin-Rahal early spring to mind), contact and hurt feelings (Helio-SeaBass, Marco- Wilson, and Sato on his own), and a demonstration of precision street course racing by Simon Pagenaud, who I think has cemented himself as 1 or 1a when it comes to this style of racing, depending on your evaluation of Will Power’s skills. And you had two rookies on the podium, with Russian Mikhail Aleshin taking 2nd and Briton Jack Hawksworth rounding out the top 3.

Today was everything positive that street racing can be in my opinion. If the cutthroat action on the track today didn’t grab your interest, then nothing that I am going to write in this space ever will.

One thing to watch moving forward will be the developing story that Steph broke today in regards to possible issues with the spec Brembo braking systems used in IndyCar competition.

On a personal note: Thanks to all my fellow Houstonians that came out in miserable weather to take in the event this weekend. I hope that this event can remain on the schedule moving forward given the quality of the racing, but I do think that something has to be done about its timing on the schedule, or at least its time of the day.

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