Houston, TX (Sports Network) - After taking a month-long break, the IndyCar Series is back on track this weekend with not one race but two.
The series will run its third and final weekend doubleheader this season at a new venue -- Houston's Reliant Park. Houston is race 17 and 18 on the 19-event schedule this year. The season concludes on Oct. 19 in Fontana, Calif.
After finishing ninth in the most recent IndyCar race, the Sept. 1 Grand Prix of Baltimore, Helio Castroneves increased his lead in the championship standings to a season-high 49 points over Scott Dixon, who finished 19th. Dixon started on the pole but was involved in a wreck with Will Power following a restart late in the event.
"Wow, it seems like a long time since we last raced in Baltimore a few weeks ago," Castroneves said. "It's been tough waiting, but it will make it even better once we get on track."
Castroneves has scored 12 consecutive top-10 finishes and has completed every lap in the first 16 races this season. The Team Penske driver has one win, which came in June at Texas Motor Speedway.
This is the third time Castroneves has led in points with three races to go. He was atop the standings at this juncture of the season in 2003 and '06. Castroneves has been in contention for the series title in four of the last five years.
"We know we need to have a strong weekend with two races in front of us and a close battle for the championship," he said. "We are focused and ready, and I'm looking forward to getting to know the new Reliant Park street course and see what we can do."
After winning the GP of Baltimore, Simon Pagenaud moved up to third in the standings. Pagenaud is 70 points behind Castroneves.
Sebastien Bourdais had a superb performance in Baltimore, finishing third after starting 22nd. Bourdais won both Champ Car Series races at Reliant Park from 2006-07. He has yet to win in IndyCar.
"I have great memories from Houston, having won the previous two events at this track, back in the Champ Car days," Bourdais said. "I sure hope to score some more podiums and why not a win."
Ten different drivers have been to victory lane in IndyCar this year, including first-time race winners James Hinchcliffe (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Takuma Sato (Long Beach, Calif.), Charlie Kimball (Mid-Ohio) and Pagenaud (Detroit/Race 2).
Each of the two races on the 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit at Reliant Park will be 90 laps (153 miles) in length.
Six drivers competing in this weekend's doubleheader have previously raced at Reliant Park -- Bourdais, Pagenaud, Power, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia and Justin Wilson.
"I think it's great to add the Houston street circuit this year," Power said. "I remember racing there around Reliant Park in 2006 and 2007, and it seemed to be a really popular event with the fans and a cool venue for a race. It was a bumpy and challenging street circuit, and I think it's definitely going to make for an interesting weekend, especially with two races and so many points on the line for the championship."
IndyCar will conduct a standing start in the first Houston race. In race 2 on the streets of Toronto (July 14), pole sitter Dixon had a clean getaway and went on to complete his weekend-sweep there.
Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Saturday, Oct. 5 (Race 1); Sunday, Oct. 6 (Race 2) Race: Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Site: Reliant Park. Track: 1.683- mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit. Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday/Race 1), 1:30 p.m. ET (Sunday/Race 2) Laps: 90. Miles: 153. Television: NBC Sports Network. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.
10/04 12:38:47 ET