Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Castroneves ready to redeem himself at Houston
2. Proper planning helps drivers prepare for Texas heat
3. Sato's race-worn helmet earns $31,350 for charity
4. Yellow Party Houston features unique auction items
1. Castroneves ready to redeem himself at Houston: Understandably, Helio Castroneves is happy that organizers of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers have made corrections to Turn 1 of the temporary circuit at NRG Park.
The veteran Team Penske driver could point to that location on the 1.683-mile MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway as the undoing of his 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship hopes during the last October's doubleheader.
"I'm very pleased that they made some changes," said Castroneves, who enters this weekend's event second in the series standings. "We didn't finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control. Hopefully we'll continue what we're doing and continuing on to the championship."
Gearbox issues brought about, according to Castroneves, by the car bottoming out in both races impacted his results. In the opening 90-lap race, he entered the pits on Lap 24. The crew made speedy repairs and got him back on the track in seven minutes. Re-entering the race nine laps down and in 20th place, Castroneves finished 18th.
"It's tough, but it's something that's out of our control. I tried to earn as many points as I could and really just focus on making the car better (for the second race)."
The next day, Castroneves detected a vibration with every gear shift after only a handful of laps. The car came to a stop on the course and was towed to the Team Penske prep area, where the crew again replaced the gearbox and sent him back out 36 laps down. He placed 23rd, earning the minimum eight points.
"It's frustrating and disappointing," said Castroneves, who saw a 74-point swing to Scott Dixon's favor entering the season finale at Auto Club Speedway two weeks later.
Two weeks ago, Will Power was joined by Takuma Sato and Mikhail Aleshin to ceremonially place the final concrete barriers of the course. Each said the course in an expansive parking lot of the Reliant Stadium/Astrodome complex "is challenging."
"We surveyed the area in February and established the perimeter of where the bumps were and totally demolished that part of the track and repaved with new concrete," director of operations Martyn Thake said. "We had some smaller bumps between Turns 9 and 10 and we ground those down about an inch to 1½ inches. We also ground a couple of small places here and there and did spot repairs, including in pit lane.
"We had some areas that had some surface break up and we fixed those as well. We have an advantage with these temporary courses in that we can make improvements and do retro fits every time we build it."
2. Proper planning helps drivers prepare for Texas heat: Even with the forecast of cloud cover for the June 27-29 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers, Verizon IndyCar Series participants will have to address the area's ever-present heat and humidity.
For the 23 drivers, the physicality of a pair of 90-lap races 24 hours apart - in addition to separate qualifying rounds - on the 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit is taxing under mild mid-afternoon weather conditions. The Houston event marks the start of six races over four consecutive weekends.
"When you sit in that seat you're really wrestling the car," said Mike Conway, who won at Long Beach in April in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. "Especially qualifying laps when it's on edge everywhere and you're trying to wring its neck. It's quite heavy steering; when you don't have power steering and these bumpy courses it takes it out of you.
"You take that with all the heat, constant braking, all the G loads that go through your body. You get out of the race and might not feel it straight away because the adrenaline is flowing but you feel beat up afterward."
Preparation includes year-round strength-based training and road work - either running or cycling - coupled with hydration and proper caloric intake leading up to the race weekend.
"It starts months before getting your body used to holding water, and if you're training in hot temperatures you have to keep hydrating," said Conway, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Over the years you try different things. You make sure you get your food at right time and the right foods. Carbs are a good energy source; potatoes and rice. Vegetables and proteins like fish or nuts and fruits, seeds and grains. As long as you're getting the right foods in you don't have to worry about gaining weight. I don't have much to lose anyway (141 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame)."
Conway accentuates his race week hydration with electrolytes. Because the races at Houston are only 24 hours apart - with qualifications four hours before Race 2 - recovery begins immediately after the opening 90-lap race.
"The better the body is conditioned the better the body adapts to the heat," said Jim Leo, owner of PitFit Training in Indianapolis.
Conway explains the ramifications of dehydration on cognitive skills and reaction time:
"If you start getting hot in the car it's very hard to cool down even though you take water in the car," he said. "If you get a bit too hot, putting up your visor is not enough. Just the heat off the car in front of you makes a difference. Being caught in traffic can make your race about 20 percent harder.
"The minute you start getting dehydrated you start losing concentration and that's something you can't allow in a race. In the race you have to remind yourself to drink because the moment you get thirsty it's too late.
"You want to get out of the car knowing that you've given it everything."
3. Sato's race-worn helmet earns $31,350 for charity: With you Japan, the program founded by Takuma Sato in 2011 to assist families following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeastern coast, will receive $31,350 thanks to the auction of the helmet Sato wore in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile race on May 25.
A longtime supporter of Sato who lives in Japan submitted the winning bid for the helmet, which was signed by Sato and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Verizon IndyCar Series team owner A.J. Foyt. Another donor matched the winning bid for the grand total.
"It is great news that this auction raised a huge amount for With You Japan," Sato said. "A big congratulations to the successful bidder, and I really appreciate all donors who put in extra contributions. Japan is still struggling from the effects of the tsunami so with your help, we will continue to support children in a way to have some fun activities and encourage their dreams."
4. Yellow Party Houston features unique auction items: Ryan and Beccy Hunter-Reay will host The Yellow Party, the official kickoff to the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers, on June 26 at AutoNation's Mercedes Benz Greenway in River Oaks.
The event, with proceeds benefiting The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Racing for Cancer, will include an auction with items such as the opportunity to present the third-place trophy following either the June 28 or June 29 race, an autographed Johnny Manziel football and race-worn Verizon IndyCar Series gear.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series event is the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader on June 28 and 29 at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park. The races will be televised live at 3 p.m. (ET) by the NBCSN (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on XM 209 and Sirius 213, the Verizon INDYCAR 14 App and www.indycar.com.