Dissecting Houston


For this being the first time I’ve ever been to a street race, let alone covering one, I didn’t really know what to expect. After the fact now, it was a weekend to remember, for both good and bad reasons.

The hustled preparation of the track maybe to blame for the turn 1 bump that scrambled the schedule on Friday. While most street circuits take weeks to build, this one took only a few days. Impressive when you factor in everything that goes along with building a street circuit, but still a hurried job is not always a good job. The lack of time prevented any initial testing on the track and throw in that the track had not been used since 2007, there wasn’t much to compare to.

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Dario Franchitti’s accident was something that nobody wants to see. Anytime a car gets into a catchfence, the result is never good. Several drives alluded to the 2011 Las Vegas tragedy when describing the scene. It looked also reminiscent of Jeff Krosnoff’s fatal accident at Toronto in 1996. For Franchitti to only escape with a 2 broken vertebrae, a broken ankle and a concussion is huge. It shows testament to the safety of the Dallara DW-12 chassis and also note that the car held together quite well, unlike other crashes when a car has flown into the fence and the car is ripped apart. Ryan Briscoe’s 2005 crash at Chicago and Kenny Brack’s 2003 crash at Texas Motor Speedway come to mind there.

The catchfencing kept the car in the boundaries of the track, but the fact that it got ripped apart the way it did is concerning. It is not the same kind of fencing that you would find at a natural terrain road course and given the fact that the track was put together in such a short time, proper inspection was avoided.

Also, whenever you have spectator injuries, that is never good. It was not nearly as bad as the NASCAR Nationwide Series crash at the season opener at Daytona which injured 28 spectators and included some major head trauma, where this crash only had 13 injuries. Still too many, but the most severe was a broken nose and only 2 people were sent to the hospital. At it’s core, it was just a racing accident and a racing accident is like a lightning strike. You never know when or where it is going to happen-oval or road course. Luckily it doesn’t happen very often, but it is still an awful sight when it does.

The unfortunate nature of this crash is the unattractive attention it brings to IndyCar. Networks that don’t normally show anything about IndyCar showed the accident. The last thing IndyCar needs is negative attention, NASCAR is almost too big to fail and the occasional accident doesn’t overshadow the sport. In IndyCar, controversies tend to overshadow the on track product.

There was also a communication on breakdown on Sunday after qualifying was washed out. Scott Dixon was initially announced as the polesitter as the field was set by entrant points, but a few hours later IndyCar PR announced that the field would be lined up by entrant points heading into the weekend. This was after they already had Dixon do a press conference as the polesitter. The rulebook was correct, but the breakdown of communication was irritating.

So what about the on track product? Both races were the Scott Dixon and Will Power show, with the former doing what he needed to do to gain lost ground in the championship. He caught a lucky yellow during the first race as he pitted which caught Power out and inherited the lead. On day 2, he led until Power crowded his mirror on a restart on lap 39 and passed him and never looked back.

The winners weren’t the only stories. Simona de Silvestro continues to improve and impress with her 2nd place drive on Saturday. While she has always maintained gender neutrality, what’s impressive is that she is the first woman to manhandle a tight street circuit and pull off some great passes and make it stick. Also impressive was Barracuda Racing’s (Bryan Herta Autosport) latest find Luca Filippi. Filippi’s top 5 run was spoiled by the same caution that caught out Power, but until then Filippi was making big moves and for a driver that has not been in IndyCar that long, he is showing a bright future at the moment.

Helio Castroneves had over a race lead over Dixon heading into the weekend, but gearbox troubles on both days evaporated that lead and now he trails Dixon by 25 points heading into Fontana. Castroneves has plainly just been more consistent than the other drivers, but recently he hasn’t had a dynamite car throughout a whole race weekend. At Sonoma and Balitmore he turned 2 mid pack runs into top 10s and has only led 12 laps since his win at Texas in June. Dixon on the other hand has led 233 laps since the midpoint of the season.

That is the nature of Doubleheaders, though. Losing that many points in a short amount of time is what can happen on a Doubleheader.

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