LIVE BLOG: 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on June 29, 2014 6:00 am
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Welcome to More Front Wing’s live blog from the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston! MFW Co-editor Steph Wallcraft and Contributor John Lingle are at the track tapping out updates all weekend long. Updates are posted with the most recent at the top, so if this is your first visit to the live blog please go to the last page and work your way forward. For Verizon IndyCar Series time sheets and race info, visit the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Event Summary.

SUNDAY

10:41 PM CT (Steph) – Time to close out the live blog for the weekend. This might be a bit of a long one as I attempt to cover the long list of things I wasn’t able to get to throughout the weekend.

Let’s start with the usual list of links to our day’s coverage of race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston:

Pagenaud leads Schmidt Peterson 1-2 in Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston race 2 (with quotes from much of the field)

Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Event Summary (results, reports, and post-race point standings)

More Front Wing’s First Impressions of Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston race 2

MRTI: Pigot reclaims points lead with win in Pro Mazda race 2 at Houston

And some of our story-specific articles from earlier today:

Walker on Andretti penalty: “We made a new rule”

Marco Andretti penalty may be a good call, but a slippery slope awaits

IndyCar brake supplier Brembo responds to concerns of reliability

I’ll try to organize my remaining thoughts a little to make sure I cover everything in a way that makes sense.

The at-track experience. I was fortunate to be able to attend last year’s Houston event this past October, so this is my second consecutive trip. And I’ll be perfectly honest: I hid inside in the media center as much as possible this time around. What can I say? I’m Canadian. I’m not made for these conditions. It was either pouring rain or stinking hot all weekend, and those things are not my idea of fun.

I want to support the idea of night races, and it bothers me a touch that the only thing that prevented this year’s event from running after dark was reportedly a resistance to laying down the money to bring in the requisite lighting.  But after the way yesterday went, I can’t help but wonder if a night race would have meant some of the crews would be going to bed as the sun rose. However, the current modus operandi of the Verizon IndyCar Series is meant to put the fans first, so maybe that wouldn’t factor into anyone’s reasoning. After seeing the conditions this year, night races would seem to be the only reasonably fan-friendly option going forward if this event must stay in June. (It would also keep that horrible eyesore, the Astrodome, from marring the skylines on TV and in person, which would be a welcome improvement. This track is a lot of things, but beautiful is not one of them.)

That said, I felt the setup at the track was very well done for the most part and gave fans plenty of options. In addition to the variety of seating available (which I gathered information on for our Spectator Seating Guide on Friday but never found the time to put together this weekend; I’ll get that posted ASAP), there were plenty of indoor areas with air conditioning, entertainment, and screens for monitoring the on-track action, and from what I heard there were quite a few fans who availed themselves of those amenities. I also never thought the grandstands looked as empty as I had expected them to with the ominous forecasts leading into the weekend. Fans turned out despite the adversity, but I want to believe that given better conditions they would turn out in even better numbers.

The Shell, Pennzoil, and Honda names were all over this event, both in direct sponsorship and otherwise. Shell had a massive, air conditioned, and well-appointed hospitality area inside the NRG Arena in a second-storey suite that overlooked pit lane, and it was being very well used every time I passed through. Honda had a similar setup in NRG Stadium, but word was you didn’t need a special invite for that one — you only needed a set of Honda car keys to have access to an air-conditioned, two-level viewing area overlooking the passing zone in turn 6. Plus, there were some very well-done Honda promos running on the trackside video screens that featured playful yet in-depth bio videos of each of the Honda drivers, and they all ended with each driver saying, “I’m [driver], and I’m proud to be a part of Team Honda.” It was all very cohesive and well-done. (And I fully expect to see those same promos on screen at the Honda Indy Toronto.)

In a more microscopic look at the track, several drivers noted throughout the weekend that the promoters here had done a much better job this year of getting the facility ready. The large bump that was a problem in turn 1 last year was ground down, the curbs (which were initially very high) were lowered at one point during the weekend, and the fencing was beefed up in response to the incident that ended Dario Franchitti’s career last October. Marshall Pruett had a much deeper look at this work at RACER.com, but the gist of it is that the fences were tethered to the concrete supports and a center pole was added to help keep the fence in place and cars on track in the event of launch directly into the center of a fencing panel. When I walked around the track on Friday I noticed that the center poles were not in place in every fencing panel but they were there in every spot where a spectator could conceivably be, which to my mind is the only thing that matters. I thought it was a conscientious and effective solution. (Fortunately, it never needed to be tested.)

The away-from-track experience. I stayed in downtown Houston this year, which was mostly quite pleasant. Of course, I had the benefit of a nice hotel and a direct shuttle from there to the track. But I was told by several locals that it’s quite easy to stay downtown because there’s a rail line that runs from there directly to NRG Park and that downtown Houston is relatively quiet and safe.

I also found it to be quite a pretty area. It’s a little bit sterile for my taste in a city, if that makes any sense — it appears to have been purpose-built rather than having grown and developed organically. But it is very clean and well-organized, and the few restaurants I was able to try out were pretty good but not spectacular. I’m told that Houston is quite a diverse city and has delicious and myriad food options available for those willing and able to venture out a little.

One feature I noticed and enjoyed and that reminded me of home was the bike sharing facilities around the area. Every proper downtown should have a bike sharing program. They ease congestion and pollution and are eminently civilized. I tend to take the existence of one as a sign that I’m in a world-class city.

A heartfelt thanks to my hosts. I must offer a very sincere thanks to my hosts, Shell and Pennzoil, without whom I would not have been here to supplement John’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series here in Houston. In addition to being grateful to be live on site — and we’re always grateful for every opportunity we have for that — it was just so nice not to have to worry about where I was going to stay and what I was going to eat and to just be able to focus on delivering the best coverage possible of the event. I was also genuinely pleased to be able to meet so many people within Shell and from its associations and to learn a great deal more about Shell and Pennzoil products, especially as they relate to their motorsport properties, and to share that information with you through this live blog and elsewhere.

And with that, we’ll bring our coverage of the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston to a close. We send out our sincere thanks to everyone who followed our coverage, and we’re looking forward to bringing you more next weekend as Paul makes his first-ever trek out to Pocono Raceway to cover the second Verizon IndyCar Series 500-mile race of the year. See you then!

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