Houston, TX- It wasn’t the type of day for Izod IndyCar Series title contenders wanted when they practiced for the first time ever in the streets of Houston.
Helio Castroneves enters this weekend with a sizable 49 points lead over second place Scott Dixon. The next closest guy to him in the championship hunt in Simon Pagenaud whos’ 70 points out.
All three had high hopes for this weekend as it will make or break their title chances as it’s the third and last doubleheader race weekend and after we leave here there’s only once race left in the season at Fontana.
After two 45-minute practice sessions today, it wasn’t the type of day either wanted to have. Dixon and Pagenaud entered the race among the favorites as they’ve been very strong lately despite Dixon’s issues with Will Power. With how good of cars they had at the last race which was another street course in Baltimore and the experience they have, they were among the top two favorites.
Dixon had the best day but he came home sixth on the combined speed chart with a lap of 1:05.3731 in his No. 9 Target Honda. Pagenaud, had the worst day of them all as he was 17th on the charts with a time of 1:06.0607 in the No. 77 HP Sam Schmidt/Peterson Honda.
Pagenaud spoke before hand about how excited he was to be racing at Houston and how similar the track would be to Baltimore.
“It’s great to be back and see a new venue on the calendar,” said Pagenaud. “It’s always exciting when you go to a new track and getting to learn about it and setting the car up for it. I’m actually quite excited. It’s similar to Baltimore in many ways, and I’m hoping the HP car is just as fast as Baltimore.”
He went on to say all the right things regarding his championship hopes as he thinks he has a realistic shot. “When you go into a weekend like this, it’s basically a championship weekend. You either do well and you have a chance, or you do poorly and I won’t have a chance. I would be happy with fifth, because top-five (in the championship) was my initial goal. I thought it was reasonable with what we have as a team. But I think I have a greater chance than that now. It’s my job to perform the best I can to prove that we did a better job than top five. I really think we have a chance. I keep saying that, and I’m not saying that to convince myself. It’s because with what we have been doing lately, we can challenge for it. I’m very, very motivated to push it a little further than usual.”
Unfortunately, he had mechanical issues very early on and didn’t get much seat time. That hampered him and his team as he had to settle for a rough day. It changed his tone from this morning to tonight.
“We had mechanical issues today, so I didn’t get enough time on this new track, and I don’t feel like I know the track as well as I should. This is really bad timing for us in the championship, and we may have a tough time in qualifications and the first race tomorrow.”
Dixon was a lot happier despite not cracking the top five on the charts and think a recent test helped them. “I think our sessions overall were positive today. The test we did at Sebring a few weeks back really is paying off for us and the Target car. We still have a ways to go before we get into the race, but I’m happy with the progress so far.”
The guy their chasing Castroneves is searching for his first championship of his IndyCar career. He was 11th fastest overall and didn’t feel too comfortable after the two sessions.
“It was a productive day for the Shell and Pennzoil team. They did a great job. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit over the limit for me, and we weren’t able to put it all together.”
Starting tomorrow morning we will know how they stand. The series qualifies for the first Dual late morning then will race at 3:30PM on NBC Sports Network. The championship picture will start to clear up big time after qualifying and the first race.
Eric Smith is the Lead Motorsports Writer for Race Review Online. Follow him on Twitter @ericsportsguru
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