It’s fair to say that heading into this weekend, Houston had a bit to prove as an event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.
But following the two races that made up the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, it’s definitely easier to say this was a much smoother, better second year than the first.
The weekend this time around was not without its speed bumps and question marks. The heat and humidity did make things uncomfortable, particularly on Sunday.
And the biggest misstep of the weekend from an organizational standpoint came during Sunday morning’s qualifying, when two men somehow were able to run across a hot track from one side to the other just prior to Turn 6. Per this Autosport report, INDYCAR and track officials said they’d work on a fix.
Putting those two aside, otherwise, the $1 million in investments and upgrades put in by the event organizers seemed to pay dividends. The M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park circuit was still bumpy, but not nearly as rocky and craterous as it had been last October. Fortunately the new catch fencing enhancements didn’t need to be crash tested.
And the races? Smashingly entertaining, baby. Between various strategies, weather conditions, a flood of passes, penalties and controversies and a vintage, cursing A.J. Foyt, IndyCar’s pair of races had everything you could ask for and then some.
Last year, Mike Conway dominated race one in Detroit coming in off the couch driving Dale Coyne’s beloved yet perpetually underfunded second car, and the IndyCar world collectively asked, “How the hell did that just happen?”
Saturday, an unheralded 23-year-old Colombian rookie named Carlos Huertas – better known as “TBA” just five days before St. Petersburg – managed to bag his first career win in a canny, mature drive beyond his years in the beloved yet perpetually underfunded second Dale Coyne car. And again, the IndyCar world collectively asked, “How the hell did that just happen?”
As he did in Detroit race two last year, Simon Pagenaud again won race two in Houston. It was yet another sign the Frenchman must be considered among IndyCar’s elite drivers at the time being, as his already high stock continues to climb in the paddock.
Behind them, the fight for the rest of the top five was seriously entertaining. It was a battle of generations as Juan Pablo Montoya, back in IndyCar and adding to the spice of the series, fought tooth and nail with rookie Jack Hawksworth – the Englishman was all of eight and nine years old when JPM swept through CART in 1999 and 2000 like a storm through “tornado alley.”
This is why IndyCar is brilliant at the moment. You run through the stats and the level of competition is off the charts. You see the racing and wonder how much better can it get. You hear the excitement of the commentators in the NBCSN booth, just adding to and enhancing what was already a great show on track.
When an event at Houston, which is by no means a classic circuit, delivers the level of awesomeness that this weekend did, it speaks volumes of the caliber of racing IndyCar can put on at a single event right now.
It also helped to redeem the event, which rebounded nicely in 2014 after its 2013 return to the calendar.