Chicane could be Houston’s “calamity corner” this weekend

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Starts and restarts for this weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (Sat., 3 p.m. ET and Sun., 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra) could wind up being particularly hairy – and perhaps costly to some team owners as well.

That’s because drivers will have to navigate a left-right chicane after coming off the dogleg frontstretch of the 1.7-mile MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway layout at Reliant Park. The chicane was part of the two Champ Car races held at this track in 2006 and 2007.

Sebastien Bourdais, who won both of those events and is coming off a podium run last month in Baltimore, believes that “it’s pretty evident” the chicane could have an impact on the proceedings this Saturday and Sunday.

“I wish we could have a very late start, blow through the chicane for the opening lap and let [the field] stretch out, but it’s part of the program,” Bourdais said following a media luncheon Friday afternoon at Houston’s Reliant Center. “It’s unfortunately the consequence of not having enough runoff at what should have been Turn 1 in the first place but it is what it is.

“We had the same problem in Champ Cars and it puts on a good show [for the fans]. For the drivers, it’s a critical point because you don’t want the race to end in Turn 1. It definitely holds a lot of potential for incidents.”

Simona de Silvestro, who raced in the 2007 Formula Atlantic race at Houston, said luck will play a bigger role in who survives the corner.

“It could be bad; we’ve had some chaotic races of late, and I think it could go more and more that way this weekend,” she said at the same event. “But we’ve got lucky so far. We’ve got through the accidents and moved forward.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski