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Street Fight Brewing In Houston

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 5 2013

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

IZOD IndyCar Series championship contenders Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon continued to measure one another during Friday’s opening practice session for the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, while Justin Wilson and Will Power significantly lowered lap times in the second 45-minute session.

Wilson, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, posted the fastest lap of the day of 1 minute, 04.4237-seconds at 91.308 mph on the 1.683-mile, 10-turn street circuit at Reliant Park. Power, fastest in the first practice (1:06.3983) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, was 0.3790-seconds behind Wilson.

“It’s a tough track and it’s really bumpy,” said Wilson, who is seeking to become the record-tying 11th different race-winner this season. “But when the grip comes up, it feels good. Once the car starts to work around here it’s a lot of fun, but it’s tough. It’s really physical and you’re bouncing around and you’re trying to land in the right spot and get on the brakes and try not to lose one end or the other.

“I lost the rear on the turn-in to Turn 2 or 3 (in the morning session) and looped it around. We can see a lot of that, and it’s going to continue throughout the race. It’s so hard to keep it on that knife-edge. I’m really pleased with the car that Dale Coyne Racing has given me. Hopefully we can keep it up (Saturday) and have a good qualifying.”

Dixon, 49 points behind Castroneves, was second-fast in the initial practice and sixth in the second session (1:05.7512) in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda.

“Helio has had a consistent year and to be in the lead by this much at this point of the season with only one win is pretty astonishing,” said Dixon, a two-time series champion. “If they continue to do that, it maybe gives us more opportunities. We’re fighting from behind and it’s a sizable gap. But with 162 points on the table, it’s definitely achievable. We probably need a little bad luck on their part. The leader at this point has the advantage. Anything is possible; you have to keep an open mind to start.”

Castroneves, third on the time sheet in the first practice, slipped to 11th (1:05.7512) in the second session in the No. 3 Shell Pennzoil Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet.

“At this point, we have to go with the flow,” said Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion who is looking to secure his first series championship. “If I have a good car, we’ll go for it. In this position there’s more for us to lose than to gain. Those people in the attack mode have more to gain, but we’re not going to drive like an old lady and just try to finish the race. We have to be rough when we have to be rough and have to be smart. That’s our approach right now, and we have to get what we can out of the car. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is be consistent and get the most points we can.

“I’m not looking at what Scott or Simon (Pagenaud) or Marco (Andretti) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) are looking to do. I’m looking at what I can do during the two races, and having two races is a big deal. You could lose a lot of points, but at the same time you could gain a lot of points. We have to do our jobs, have good pit stops, because they aren’t going to be easy on us.”

Meanwhile, practice sessions and qualifications were revised because of a surface issue in Turn 1. A temporary chicane to slow the cars was employed until grinding of the racing surface at Turn 1 could take place overnight. That area of Reliant Park is utilized to store the grass field for Reliant Stadium.

Qualifying for Race 1, originally scheduled for Friday, now will be held at 11:45 a.m. (EDT) Saturday. The three rounds of qualifying for road/street circuits, including the Firestone Fast Six, were eliminated for a 30-minute session split into two groups of 12 minutes each of track time. Saturday’s 90-lap Race 1 with a standing start will proceed as scheduled at 3:30 p.m. (EDT). Race 2 is set for 1:30 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. Both races will be televised live by NBC Sports Network.

INDYCAR officials have penalized Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 Dallara/Honda fielded by Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Dallara/Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 10 grid spots each for unapproved engine changes prior to the doubleheader at Reliant Park. Both cars failed to comply with rules 15.1.4 and 15.5.1.

15.1.4. Each Full-Season Entrant may use no more than five fresh-built Engines from the first Open Test until the end of the Race season. Using more than five fresh Engines in this period will result in a penalty. Engines beyond the fifth-fresh Engine may be fresh or part-used.

15.5.1. The minimum mileage threshold (“Change-Out Mileage”) is 2,000 miles.

Additionally, the No. 20 Dallara/Chevrolet of owner/driver Ed Carpenter will utilize a fresh engine this weekend but is not subject to penalty under Rule 15.5.5, which allows for a penalty-free engine change when it is brought on by circumstances beyond control of the team and manufacturer. Carpenter’s car and engine suffered smoke damage in a transporter fire returning from a test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sept. 25.

15.5.5. An Engine that has experienced a problem deemed sufficient to require change-out as mutually agreed by INDYCAR and Engine Manufacturer that is beyond the reasonable control of either the Entrant or Engine Manufacturer (such as faulty fuel, damage to the Engines caused by act of God, etc.) may be replaced with an Engine from the pool without penalty.

Firestone Indy Lights point-leader Sage Karam recorded the fastest lap during Friday’s lone practice before a 45-minute qualifying session for the same-day Grand Prix of Houston. Karam’s lap of 1 minute, 0.3931-seconds in the No. 8 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car was 0.1118-seconds quicker than teammate Jack Hawksworth, who has won three of four street-course races this season.

Karam enters the 50-lap race with a two-point lead over Carlos Munoz. Gabby Chaves is four points back and Hawksworth is 11 points behind.

Qualifying Saturday for the Shell & Pennzoil GP of Houston – Race 1 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the

1.634-mile MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at Reliant Park, with starting position, car number in

parentheses, driver, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (14) Takuma Sato, 01:00.4535 (97.305)

2. (12) Will Power, 01:01.1524 (96.192)

3. (9) Scott Dixon, 01:00.6057 (97.060)

4. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, 01:01.4911 (95.663)

5. (77) Simon Pagenaud, 01:00.6184 (97.040)

6. (78) Simona De Silvestro, 01:01.5527 (95.567)

7. (27) James Hinchcliffe, 01:01.2123 (96.098)

8. (98) Luca Filippi, 01:01.6520 (95.413)

9. (5) EJ Viso, 01:01.3274 (95.918)

10. (10) Dario Franchitti, 01:01.7201 (95.308)

11. (16) James Jakes, 01:01.3678 (95.855)

12. (25) Marco Andretti, 01:01.7907 (95.199)

13. (18) Mike Conway, 01:01.5154 (95.625)

14. (19) Justin Wilson, 01:01.8065 (95.174)

15. (11) Tony Kanaan, 01:01.5409 (95.585)

16. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, 01:01.8305 (95.138)

17. (83) Charlie Kimball, 01:01.6329 (95.443)

18. (4) Oriol Servia, 01:01.9043 (95.024)

19. (15) Graham Rahal, 01:02.0140 (94.856)

20. (67) Josef Newgarden, 01:02.1588 (94.635)

21. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, 01:02.1175 (94.698)

22. (3) Helio Castroneves, 01:02.2823 (94.447)

23. (20) Ed Carpenter, 01:03.5193 (92.608)

24. (55) Tristan Vautier, No Time (No Speed)

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 5 2013
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