9:23 AM CT (Steph) – Good morning from Saturday race day at the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston! I was meant to post an update last night after I got back to the hotel, but I ran into two problems: guest obligations and a touch of heat stroke from being outside for too long yesterday afternoon. That Houston weather is brutal if you’re in direct sun. Stay cool, hydrated, and safe out there, folks.
That afternoon sojourn was to collect information for a Spectator Seating Guide, by the way. I’ve got that all pulled together and am planning to post it during a gap in open-wheel track activity later today. As a preview, I’ll tell you that overall I quite like the grandstand setup here. There are only four paid stands, but two of them are quite large and between them the offer a good variety of views to choose from. The food options here at the track are above par, the TVs are well-positioned, the fan zone is big and has a bunch of activities — it’s all quite well thought out.
Something else worth noting: attendance here might actually be a bit higher than we all think. Honda has a massive two-storey hospitality area set up inside what’s now known as NRG Stadium, and I’m told that all you need to do to get in is flash your set of Honda car keys. John also says that the Houston Honda Dealers have been running a promotion for the last couple of weeks giving two free tickets to anyone who test drives a Honda in the city, so it seems their activation for this event has been excellent. John’s going to pop into the live blog here shortly to tell you a bit more about what he’s seen happening here in the city leading up to the event.
I’ve got a bunch more stuff to tell you about as well from last night’s Shell activities, but I’ll close this entry off here and give John a turn while I get that ready. We’re both on site here and ready to get you live coverage of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, so stick around and check in with us frequently as we continue to update the live blog throughout the weekend!
3:40 PM CT (John)– Practice #2 and the standing start practice have both finished here in Houston. Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Briscoe, and Luca Filippi were the top three drivers on the time sheets, and they joined us here in the media center after session ended.
Filippi was asked about the relative strength of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team but said it was hard for him to compare since this was his first race this year. He did point out that his car felt good today and that the pace that Graham Rahal showed at Detroit are causes for optimism going into qualifying and race one tomorrow.
Briscoe attributed the teams newfound pace to several test sessions that the team has undertaken over the break between TMS and Houston. He also said that the track was better than last year bump wise, but that it was still the same bumpy circuit that he remembered running in 2007 running a sports car for Roger Penske.
Pagenaud was quickest in the afternoon session, and he seemed genuinely excited about his chances going into this weekend. Stating that the track fits his driving style, Simon pointed to turn 10 as both his favorite corner on the track (due to its high speed) and one of the best overtaking spots (due to the propensity for mistakes in the tough curve).
Points Leader Will Power, who topped the morning session, also joined the media briefly and said that the track was basically the same as last year in his opinion. One interesting thought to come from Will was that he feels that he has been singled out by IndyCar race control this season, having received four drive thru penalties in the last five races.
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