HOUSTON -- Organizers of the Grand Prix of Houston said Monday they are planning a much smoother race this season after bumps on the road course caused a series of problems last year.
Building a course within a city poses a number of challenges, but the track is not expected to add obstacles. Last year, a bump on turn one turned the event and points standings upside down. Points leader Helio Castroneves bottomed out in the second race on that turn, destroying his gearbox and ending a weekend that saw his 49-point lead vanish.
Less than a year later, race organizers are working to turn NRG Park into an IndyCar track. And they don't anticipate fresh problems in turn one.
"Monday of this week we demolished that part of the race track and poured new concrete so it's gone," says Martyn Thake, who is overseeing the construction of the course. "It wasn't like that the year before when we came and tested it. It was unfortunate and we at least were able to address it so we could continue running last year. It threw our schedule off but we've done it before and we got it licked."
Last year, construction around Reliant Park could not begin until after the Houston Texans' Sept. 29 game. Once the bump in the asphalt was discovered, IndyCar was forced to delay track activity and erect a chicane of tires that drivers had to go around during two practice sessions. That worked until Josef Newgarden hit the chicane, knocking it into the path of Castroneves.
Track officials spent all night grinding the bump, but it never solved the problem. And in the second race, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was hurt in a career-ending crash that also injured 13 fans and an IndyCar Series official.
This year's races are June 28-29, well before the NFL season, giving Thake and his crew ample time to address any issues.
"The bump on turn one was unexpected," managing director Austin Crossley said. "We've been working very closely with IndyCar, we've gone around the track and we've repaired the big bump on turn one and smoothed out some other areas and we think we'll be ready here in a couple of weeks."
Crossley said construction will be done in time to get cars on the track well ahead of the race, instead of in the middle of the night like last year. The hope is that the focus this year is on the racing and not the topography of the course.
"We got through both races (last year), but it's going to be much nicer this year that there won't be a bump there," said Team Penske driver Will Power, who won the second race last year. "Street course racing's our best racing. It's aggressive. It's a great, fun track for racing and it's your typical awesome street course where a lot of action happens."