Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves is very happy that changes have been made to that area of the circuit after he was a victim of circumstance there in both races last year. Track workers grinded a bump that was in turn 1. The bump had caused damage to Castroneves' car in the first and second events.
Before the 2013 doubleheader in Houston, Castroneves had a season-high 49- point lead in the championship standings. In race 1, Castroneves suffered damage to his gearbox after his car bottomed out in turn 1 in the early going. He spent nine laps behind the wall and ended up finishing 18th, as his lead was trimmed to just eight points over Scott Dixon, who won the first race.
In race 2, Castroneves started on the pole and led the first 10 laps before he stalled on the track due to a cracked gearbox. He spent nearly half of that event behind the wall and wound up placing 23rd. Dixon finished second and took over the points lead, holding a 25-point advantage over Castroneves. Dixon went on to win his third IndyCar championship by a 27-point margin.
Castroneves enters this year's doubleheader in Houston ranked second in the standings, 39 points behind leader and teammate Will Power.
"I'm very pleased that they made some changes," Castroneves said of the Houston street circuit. "We didn't finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control. Hopefully, we'll continue what we're doing and continuing on to the championship."
Castroneves is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 but has yet to claim a championship in the series.
There were additional areas on the circuit that had smaller bumps, but they have been grinded as well.
"We surveyed the area in February and established the perimeter of where the bumps were and totally demolished that part of the track and repaved with new concrete," said Martyn Thake, director of operations for the Grand Prix of Houston. "We had some smaller bumps between turns 9 and 10, and we ground those down about an inch to 1 1/2 inches. We also ground a couple of small places here and there and did spot repairs, including in pit lane.
"We had some areas that had some surface break up, and we fixed those as well. We have an advantage with these temporary courses in that we can make improvements and do retro fits every time we build it."
On Friday, Power topped the time charts in the first practice with a lap in 60.4427 seconds. Castroneves was sixth quickest (60.8357). Power won race 2 in Houston last year.
"I think we all learned a little from 2013 on what you need to do to strengthen the car to make it last over the Houston track, which can be pretty rough, although they have smoothed out some of the areas," Power said. "With the street courses, you have to absolutely wring the car's neck to be fast. You have to play offense at all times. I've done that all year long in the Verizon [team sponsor] Chevy, and that's what I plan on doing this weekend."
Twenty-three teams are on the entry list for the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
Series: Verizon IndyCar. Date: Saturday, June 28 (Race 1) and Sunday, June 29 (Race 2). Race: Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston (weekend doubleheader). Site: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park. Track: 1.683-mile, 10- turn temporary street circuit. Start Time: 3:43 p.m. ET on Saturday and 3:50 p.m. ET on Sunday. Laps: 90 (each race). Miles: 153 (each race). 2013 Winner: Scott Dixon (Race 1) and Will Power (Race 2). Television: NBC Sports Network. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.