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Grand Prix of Houston track gets a makeover
Martyn Thake puffs on his cigar as he guides a forklift driver, directing him as the barrier is fit into what will be the outside front straight at the Grand Prix of Houston track.

He taps ashes off his cigar and smiles as he explains where the track will go, animation creeping in as he gestures toward what used to be turn Two of the temporary track with the damp end of the cigar.

“The track will make a couple of 90-degree turns before it goes left,” he said, pointing at a mass of two-ton concrete barriers in no particular order. “Last year, we had a chicane. This year, when you come past the pit exit, it goes to a 90-degree right. The idea is to get these champ cars slowed to about 50 miles per hour. There’s no such thing as a good chicane. They use chicanes to fix something you screwed up.”

Screwed up is a strong set of words. But considering it was he who designed the track — and, thus, he who screwed up — he also wants you to know that he takes full responsibility for the way it turned out. And he’s taking full responsibility for the changes this year, too.

It’s nothing new with the man who not only designed the Grand Prix of Houston, but also some of the most successful road courses in the United States. Thake is truly a hands-on type of guy. He’s out there in the thick of things, arranging and coaching and guiding the people who put this place together for the race this weekend. It’s his name on the line if it’s wrong. And, for the most part, the drivers respect him for his empathy and knowledge.

Last year, the track was slightly different. Since it was a quickly planned event, it had its share of issues — mostly with bumps. And also with the turn Two area, drivers said it was too close to the area. This year, Thake is doing what he can to correct those problems.

Thus the two turns before turn Two, and thus the diamond grinders.

“We’re grinding and will be grinding for the next eight nights,” he said last week. “There will still be bumps though.”

It is, after all, a street circuit. And no matter how much money Houston invests, it’s still a parking lot. It will never be as smooth as a dedicated road course. To make matters worse, accurate tests on it won’t be possible until race day. That means until the cars get on this year, they really don’t know if they have it corrected properly. That said, it’ll still be better than last year.

“We’ve had a full year and we’ve used mostly all of it. Were the fence lines in the right places? Was traffic in the right places? Was it too far to walk to get food? We sat down and looked at it all piece by piece.” More at Galveston County Daily News

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