What to watch for: IndyCar Race 1 at Houston (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra)

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BRING YOUR MOUTHGUARDS

Course designers have ground down the Turn 1 bump that wreaked havoc during last year’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend, along with a few other spots. But even with the fixes, they’re still racing on a parking lot and this rough, 1.7-mile course is still tough to navigate. Keep an eye on the Turn 2 chicane, where Will Power and Jack Hawksworth got air over the curbs in yesterday’s practice session. Some overnight grinding took place on said curbs, but we’ll have to see if it helps matters.

BEAT THE HEAT

Double-headers are always a grind for the teams, and when you throw in Houston’s summer heat and humidity, things only get more difficult. Temperatures are expected to be around the high 80s and low 90s for today’s 90-lap race, and tomorrow’s 90-lapper has conditions looking about the same. Surely, some of the drivers are already hoping that this event goes to a night-time format in 2015.

POWER SURGE?

Will Power is your current points leader, but is starting 18th in this afternoon’s Race 1. However, this shouldn’t faze the Aussie, who took Race 1 of the Detroit doubleheader after starting 16th and finished second in Detroit Race 2 after getting penalized early for avoidable contact. Houston is a bit bumpier and more compact than Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, though. That could hinder Power’s ability to drive through the field.

ANOTHER LOOK AT LUCA

Luca Filippi has carried a stout pace in Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s second car. He was fourth overall in Friday practice, and this morning, he was able to advance to the Firestone Fast Six and ensure himself a solid starting position for Race 1. An unlucky late yellow cost him a Houston podium in last year’s first race, but if his work so far is any indication, he’ll have a solid opportunity to get that Top-3 result this weekend.

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.