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Monday, June 09, 2014 8:00 PM

Associated Press

Houston plans smooth IndyCar race after bumpy '13

HOUSTON — Organizers of the Grand Prix of Houston announced 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, 3-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 added 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."

Rosberg: Mercedes must be bulletproof in Formula 1:

MONTREAL — The twin Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have so dominated the Formula One circuit this season that even a second-place finish that extended Rosberg's lead in the championship standings left them disappointed.

"We need to make sure that we're bulletproof," Rosberg said after Daniel Ricciardo passed the hobbled Silver Arrow with two laps to go to win the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday. "Having lost the win, that's very, very disappointing, definitely, and also disappointing for us as a team. We have such speed and such a great car, to not win the race and even just finish with one car and come second is hugely disappointing for us, definitely.

"Our ambition is to finish 1-2 so we need to make sure that we get back there again next race in Austria."

Mercedes had won every race in the series heading into Montreal, with Rosberg posting two victories and four second-place finishes. Hamilton won the other four races, finishing second in Monaco last month; he had engine trouble and did not finish the season opener in Melbourne.

That's pretty much what it takes to knock the Mercedes off the top spots of the podium and it happened again this week on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Both Rosberg and Hamilton had the same problem, at about the same time — the midpoint of the 70-lap race.

When Rosberg radioed in for a solution, he was told, "We don't think we can resolve it."

Rosberg said the problem put more pressure on the rear brakes, causing them to overheat.

The second-place finish — his seventh podium in seven races — gives Rosberg 140 points of a possible 175 on the season; Hamilton is second with 118.

Ricciardo moved into third with 79 after his first career Formula One victory, passing Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (69 points); Ricciardo's Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel, the 4-time defending world champion, finished third and is fifth in the standings with 60 points.

Ricciardo has two third-place finishes, two fourth-place finishes and a win in his last five races. He crossed the finish line second in the season opener in his homeland but was later disqualified for an illegal fuel flow.

Still, the 24-year-old Australian added it is too soon to the Grand Prix of Austria on June 22.

Australian GP trophy to be named after Brabham

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Grand Prix winner's trophy will be named in honor of 3-time Formula One champion Jack Brabham, who died on May 19 at the age of 88.

Brabham is the only Formula One driver to win a world title in a car he designed and built himself —?? the rear-engine Brabham BT19 — in 1966.

He is already recognized on the trophy which carries a laminated studded timber trim replica of the steering wheel from the race car that he used to win his first world title in 1959. He won the F1 world title again in 1960.

Australian Grand Prix officials made the announcement today.

Brabham will be given a state funeral on Wednesday on the Gold Coast in Queensland state, where he lived.


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