HOUSTON – After spending nearly $1 million to make the 10-turn, 1.683-mile temporary street course at Houston’s NGR Park smoother the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers still believe it’s a handful.
“It’s still bumpy,” Ryan Briscoe said after the driver for Chip Ganassi Racing was the second fastest driver in Friday’s second practice session – third overall – for this weekend’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by The Greater Honda Houston Dealers.
Friday’s two practice sessions are it for the 23 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series before Saturday morning’s knockout qualifying followed by Saturday’s 90-lap, 153-mile race. Another 30-minute qualification session with the field split into two groups will be Sunday morning at 11 a.m. E.T. followed by Sunday’s 90-lap contest that concludes the weekend doubleheader.
Both races start at 3:30 p.m. E.T. and are on the NBC Sports Network.
Although “it’s still bumpy” according to Briscoe, the race course is an improvement over last year’s danger-filled layout that included a big bump in turn one along with other bumps throughout the facility that took its toll on drivers and fans alike.
Last year’s Sunday race ended with a horrifying crash involving three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti’s car airborne into a tire fence injuring 13 spectators. Franchitti’s injuries forced him into early retirement on advice from his doctors.
To rectify the situation race promoter Michael Lanigan removed many of the bumps and repaved the race course. The grandstands that were in the turn of Franchitti’s crash are gone as Lanigan and IndyCar officials are hopeful of a much safer race.
The difficulty of the track along with the high heat and humidity of Houston in the middle of the summer should make this weekend quite a challenge.
“It feels way better than last year looked; thankful for all the changes and upgrades to the track,” Briscoe said. “It’s exciting and demanding. It’s not that hot but feels hot because of the humidity. It takes it out of you. I’m pleased with way we opened up with the car. The first session was about me getting back in the groove at the track for the first time in seven years and relearning the track. This afternoon felt really good. We’ve had a busy schedule since last race at Texas with tests at Iowa, Milwaukee and Sebring. I feel like it helped us as a team and really keep building with what we’re working with and hopefully keep going strong.”
Simon Pagenaud was the fastest driver on Friday with a fast time of 1:00.1414 (97.809 miles per hour) in a Dallara/Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He enters Saturday’s race fourth in the standings, 91 behind the leader Will Power of Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.
Through the first eight races of this season Pagenaud has one win, five top-fives and six finishes in the top-six.