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Houston IndyCar weekend rebounds in a big way after 2013 trials (VIDEO)

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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.

A trying first weekend back on the calendar last October was not without its challenges. And in theory, a doubleheader the last weekend of June for this year shouldn’t have improved things.

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.

Trident completes 2016 GP2 line-up with Armand

2015 GP2 Series Test 3.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 4 December 2015.
Philo Armand (INA, Status Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _L0U4261
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Trident has completed its line-up for the 2016 GP2 Series season by signing Indonesian driver Philo Paz Armand.

Armand has previously raced in a number of European Formula Renault 2.0 championships, and most recently took part in half of last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 rounds, scoring one point.

Armand will now step up to GP2 for the 2016 season, racing alongside 2015 GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto at Trident.

“We are very excited to start this collaboration with Philo and we are confident he will express all his talent thanks to the team’s help,” Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci said.

The grid for GP2’s support series, GP3, is also beginning to come together for the new season following the announcements of Tatiana Calderon and Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi.

Calderon moves into GP3 from FIA F3 and will race for Carlin, while Fukuzumi joins ART Grand Prix, continuing the French squad’s association with Honda.

Marchionne calls for Alfa Romeo to consider F1 entry

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  The Alfa Romeo 4C on display at the Vanity Fair Campaign Hollywood Alfa Romeo Ride and Drive luncheon at The Polsky Residence on February 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
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Fiat-Chrysler CEO and Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne believes that Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo must consider entering Formula 1 with a team in the near future.

Alfa Romeo last raced as a constructor in F1 between 1979 and 1985, but has enjoyed no involvement within the series since 1988 when it supplied engines to the Osella team.

Marchionne believes that a return to F1 would be an effective way for Alfa Romeo to grow as a brand and gain more public awareness.

“In order to restore their name, they must consider returning to Formula 1,” Marchionne told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Alfa Romeo are capable of making their own chassis, just like they are capable of making their own engine,” he added, before conceding that it could enjoy an engine supply from Ferrari should it wish to enter F1.

Marchionne believes that adding more manufacturers to the F1 grid is key to safeguarding the long-term future of the series.

“In the end this sport must be saved,” Marchionne said.

“The important thing is to make other car manufacturers enter grand prix racing.”

Grosjean unveils new helmet design for first F1 season with Haas

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Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.

Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.

Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.

In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.

Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.

Mario Andretti: 21-race calendar no bad thing for F1

FONTANA, CA - AUGUST 29:  Racing legend Mario Andretti during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1978 Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti believes that having a 21-race calendar is no bad thing for the series as it caters to the demand for grands prix around the world.

The 2016 schedule is set to be the longest yet, featuring 21 races after the return of the German Grand Prix and the addition of the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Such a packed calendar has been met with mixed responses by the F1 community, with some expressing concern over the lack of breaks between races.

FIA president Jean Todt said in January that a 21-race calendar should be seen as a “privilege” by those in F1, and Andretti echoed his comments when speaking to El Pais.

“It does represent an extra burden for the teams, but they must also appreciate that it provides greater exposure to the brands,” Andretti said.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for F1 because you have an incredible demand and 21 occasions to showcase the sport.

“Plus the drivers are willing to run more races, so that calendar’s not a bad thing in my opinion.”

Andretti also spoke of the need to safeguard the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which remains subject to confirmation for 2016 amid concerns about its financial stability.

“After all the investments that were made on this fantastic venue, all people involved need to make sure we have a grand prix,” he said.

“I think F1 needs the US and vice versa. When you look at the sponsors in every team, you see that all of them are global and most do business in America.

“It is believed that the Mexico race has taken some of the spectators away, but as time goes by, both events will help each other because people are keen to see F1.”