IRL headlines

1.      IZOD IndyCar Series to race in Houston in 20132.      INDYCAR sets test at Indianapolis on April 43.      If you missed it: Simon Pagenaud Conference Call

4.      NBC Sports Network  to debut INDYCAR 36 as part of Barber coverage1. IZOD IndyCar Series to race in Houston in 2013: Indy car racing will return to Houston in October 2013.The announcement March 28 confirmed an IZOD IndyCar Series race weekend that INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard and Mi-Jack Promotions principal Mike Lanigan had sought for more than a year. The Oct. 4-6 event will be known as the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston."We are thrilled to be returning to Houston," said Lanigan, Chairman and CEO of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. "The Grand Prix was very successful in 2006 and 2007 (Champ Car World Series events won by Sebastien Bourdais), with big crowds at Reliant Park witnessing an exciting three-day festival of speed. In 2013 it will be better than ever."Bernard, who attended the news conference in Houston, said many factors contributed to the decision to award Houston a spot on the 2013 schedule."When we look at growing our schedule, one of our top objectives is to showcase our racing in major U.S. cities, which in turn helps our sponsors, team owners and television package and is key to the success of our sport," he said. "As the fourth-largest city in the country, Houston is a great fit for the IZOD IndyCar Series and Reliant Park will be a tremendous venue."INDYCAR president of operations and strategy Brian Barnhart toured the complex March 28 and was impressed with the infrastructure and venue for racing and spectators. The 1.7-mile, 10-turn concrete circuit will challenge drivers and teams."Aside from the size of the market and what it brings, to be in the Reliant Park complex is just a phenomenal venue that will be great because it's so convenient and well-packaged," he said.Others participating in the news conference were Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, City of Houston Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez, Shell Oil Company President Marvin Odum, Chairman of the Grand Prix Local Organizing Committee George DeMontrond, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves, and IZOD IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske.The multi-year title sponsorship agreement between Shell and Pennzoil and Mi-Jack Promotions made the Grand Prix's return possible."Shell has built a long, storied history in motorsports across the world," said Lisa Davis, President of Shell Commercial Fuels and Lubricants Americas. "Becoming the title sponsor for the IZOD IndyCar Series race lets us bring the Grand Prix home to enjoy with our customers, employees, and neighbors."In 2006 and '07, the Grand Prix of Houston had an estimated economic impact of more than $35 million per year to the region and resulted in substantial international exposure for the city and Harris County. With this in mind, then-Mayor Annise Parker and Emmett founded the Grand Prix Local Organizing Committee in 2010 to identify a title sponsor to make the Grand Prix's return possible."On behalf of all of us involved in the Grand Prix Local Organizing Committee, I would like to thank Randy Bernard and the IZOD IndyCar Series for their confidence in Houston," DeMontrond said. "We are also very grateful for the leadership of Mayor Parker and Judge Emmett, and for Shell and Pennzoil stepping up and providing the sponsorship support we needed."Penske and Castroneves, who won the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25 in the Chevrolet-powered No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car, represented teams and drivers that will be competing in the race weekend."It is important for the IZOD IndyCar Series to bring events to major markets to not only grow the series but to expand the audience and create new fans of the sport," Penske said. "With the history of open-wheel racing in downtown Houston and at Reliant Park, this is a great opportunity to bring a vibrant street race to the fourth-largest city in the United States."Added Castroneves: "It's always fun to put on a great show in front of large crowds, and with Houston being a gateway to Central and South America it's important for the series' Latin America audience to have the opportunity to experience these urban festivals that always have a fun and exciting atmosphere."Bourdais said he's looking forward to the challenge of competing on the circuit. Dario Franchitti (1998) won the inaugural race in Houston. Other winners included Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser and Gil de Ferran."It's a really hard course," he said. "It's what we call concrete racing and it's not easy. Houston is a good market for INDYCAR and is a very positive thing for the series." Event organizers are planning a "three-day festival of speed," with a variety of family-friendly activities complementing on-track activity.Tickets are not yet on sale, but fans are encouraged to visit to join the "Checkered Flag Club" to receive information and pre-sale opportunities.2. INDYCAR sets test at Indianapolis on April 4: INDYCAR announced today that it will hold a test of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car on April 4 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. Teams will be limited to one car each at the test.   

"What was originally scheduled to be a manufacturers' test has been expanded to provide each team the opportunity to send one car to the test," said Will Phillips, vice president of technology for INDYCAR.   "Dallara has worked hard to make sure all the required parts are available to allow teams to test the new package."Rookie drivers will not be part of the April 4 test as Rookie Orientation Program is slated for May 10 at the Speedway.  3. If you missed it: Simon Pagenaud Conference Call: Earlier today, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud participated in a media conference call to preview Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. A full transcript and a broadcast-quality MP3 are available at Selected quotes from the interview are below.Q. Talk about the race at St. Pete. Did you expect to make up all those spots?

SIMON PAGENAUD: That was scary to begin with. I mean, we had a great car, a great race car that we knew was our strength, and we wanted to do as well as possible.So I went into the race thinking to go through Turn 1 fine, and then from there work my way through. But I take my hat off to the team. We did a fantastic pit stop and strategy was pretty amazing and they really got me up there and we didn't make any mistakes. We got out of trouble, and with what we had in hand, I think we got the best results we could achieve.Q. Last year you earned your reputation as a super sub, and it was this race last year you made your first IZOD IndyCar Series start filling in for Ana Beatriz. Talk about going to a track where you have some laps at the Barber Motorsports Park.SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, we tested this winter, and we worked very hard on our mechanical setup, and I think we go into Barber with a very good spirit. I think we have got a good balance. We worked a lot on our grip level, as well.And you know, I'm really looking forward to go there for the second time. It's a completely different racetrack to St. Petersburg. I know in St. Pete we had a really good race car. This time it's going to be a different beast.But I think we did good homework over the winter. I'm very optimistic about our chances there.Q. You were fast at the start of the weekend and you were maybe considered a surprise to make that Firestone Fast Six on Saturday, and then you backed it up; did you expect to be that good and that competitive out of the gate?SIMON PAGENAUD: To be honest, I knew we did a very good homework at Sebring and Barber over the winter. I knew my engineers have been really strong and they have been asking themselves the right questions.So I knew it would be, you know, in the mix, but I was kind of surprised that right out of the box. We were out there already. It was a pleasing surprise. I think we can keep going in that direction, because we have more in store. It's going to be a matter of executing every race and make it happen.Q. Gil de Ferran said that you were his dark horse pick for the championship. Do you think that you could be a contender in your first full year?SIMON PAGENAUD: Why not? I think, you know, the chemistry on the team is pretty amazing. It's the first time in my career I've had such a great opportunity to showcase what I can do, but I'm also a lot more ready than I used to be in the past.I think it's just very good timing for me, and if we keep doing what we are doing at the moment, then why not. I think we can definitely fight in the Top 6, and if we are consistent then maybe that would be good for being well placed in the championship.4. NBC Sports Network  to debut INDYCAR 36 as part of Barber coverage: The re-branded NBC Sports Network (formerly VERSUS) enters its fourth season of a multi-year partnership, and its lineup features 10 IZOD IndyCar Series races in addition to qualifications and special programming. Bob Jenkins and analysts Jon Beekhuis and Wally Dallenbach Jr. will be on the air at 4 p.m. (ET) March 31 to call the three rounds of qualifications on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park. The pre-race telecast begins at 2 p.m. (ET) April 1.Complementing the booth announcers will be current IZOD IndyCar Series driver Townsend Bell, Marty Snider, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller on pit lane.Preceding the race day coverage will be the debut of "INDYCAR 36" (1:30 p.m. ET), which will feature Tony Kanaan.An IMS Productions crew followed Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 GEICO | Mouser Electronics-KV Racing Technology w/ SH car, during the St. Petersburg race weekend for INDYCAR 36."This show will give viewers their first real opportunity to go behind the scenes with a driver - from riding in the car with them to the racetrack to their team meetings," said Robby Greene, president and COO of IMS Productions.The excitement and drama of the season-opening race is captured - along with the disappointment of completing only 21 of 100 laps because of an battery issue.INDYCAR 36 also will be replayed three times during the week following each NBC Sports Network race.NBC Sports Network also will televise qualifications and Carb Day activities from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Additionally, Firestone Indy Lights races will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network this year. The St. Petersburg 100 will be televised at 5 p.m. (ET) March 29. Mike King, Beekhuis and Jake Query are the announcers.