Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin turned heartbreak in Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers into celebration in Victory Circle following an exhausting 90-lap battle in Race 2.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates finished 1-2 on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit in the second of three doubleheader events this season.
Jack Hawksworth, a Verizon IndyCar Series rookie like Aleshin, leaped from qualifying last to finishing a season-high third. Charlie Kimball finished fourth and Sebastien Bourdais, who overcame a broken front wing sustained in contact on Lap 49 with the car of Helio Castroneves, recovered to finish fifth.
It was the first 1-2 finish for the Indianapolis-based team co-owned by Ric Peterson and former Indy car drivers Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton.
"We thought we had the class of the field (in Race 1), but it didn't work out that way," team manager Rob Edwards said. "This is much better."
Pagenaud earned his first Verizon P1 Award for Race 1, but the Frenchman was relegated to a 16th-place finish after struggling on the rain-soaked track at NRG Park. Aleshin's Race 1 ended on Lap 33 after contact with Takuma Sato in Turn 6 after starting a then-best 10th. He started on the front row for Race 2.
"Awesome race. The car was just beautiful," said Pagenaud, who earned his second victory of the season. "That's why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. We regrouped after Detroit (22nd and 6th-place finishes) and then came up with this package."
Following the Lap 49 caution, Pagenaud found clear sailing through a Lap 63 pit stop and three more full-course cautions. Aleshin, who drove 40 laps on one set of Firestone primary tires and 18.5 gallons of E85, slid into second on the pit stop.
All four full-season rookies posted podium results this weekend (Carlos Huertas winning and Carlos Munoz placing third in Race 1). Four different teams were represented in the top five.
"I can't really explain my feeling. I just have so much emotion," said Aleshin, the first Verizon IndyCar Series driver from Russia. "We had a great qualifying today and had a great race. I had contact with Graham (Rahal) after his pit stop and at this moment I felt like, 'That's it.' But I had a great strategy and had the same pace as the leaders. I was able to catch up and overtake some of them. Because of the strategy we were up there. And then can you imagine? In the end, I (was losing tire pressure). I was really lucky to finish, actually. The team did an amazing job. I don't have enough English words to thank the team."
Castroneves, the Verizon P1 Award winner, lost an opportunity to slice into Team Penske teammate Will Power's championship points advantage in the incident with Bourdais. The No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske was overtaken for the lead in Turn 3 by Pagenaud and then made contact with Bourdais' No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing car on the high-speed run-up to Turn 6.
"I had no idea that he was there," said Castroneves, who tied Rick Mears for fourth all-time with 40 P1 starts. "When I'm attacking I can't have eyes in the back of my head. I am upset because we had a great car and there were 40 laps to go and I wasn't panicking to get the lead back."
Castroneves led a field-high 47 laps to pick up two bonus points, but they were too few. Power, who made contact with a tire barrier on the white flag lap to fall from running third to finish 11th, takes a 39-point lead into the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco on July 7. That's the margin he enjoyed entering the Houston doubleheader. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished seventh and sixth on the weekend, closed to 41 points behind. Pagenaud is 59 points back in fourth.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who was runner-up to fellow Columbian Huertas in Race 1, was overtaken by Hunter-Reay for sixth and Ryan Briscoe gained seven positions to finish eighth. Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan completed the top 10.
"It feels good to come out of this doubleheader in Houston with a top-10 finish," said Briscoe, who secured his third consecutive top 10 and fifth of the season. "This series is just so competitive and it's a fight to the finish at every race."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet): "It was an interesting day. We took a bit of a gamble starting on the black (primary) tires. We didn't think we would be the only ones, but as it turned out there were only two of us who did and it kind of worked out. We managed to hang on during the first stint and were really strong once we switched to the red (alternate) tires. We started to run down the leaders and then there was the first yellow. On the restart I was strong and the other guys were struggling. I passed (Will) Power and went for Helio (Castroneves). He was on the inside and I went to the outside, the right side. I put my nose next to him and I guess he never saw me coming. He changed lanes and we made pretty heavy contact. That busted my front wing pretty good. After that it was a tough fight. I had to be really creative to compensate for the balance of the car. I played with the brake balance and I was having trouble stopping the car and lost a lot of positions. Then there was another yellow and another yellow and another yellow. We hung in there and at the end of the race I was able to make a couple of moves and in the end we had another top-five finish. We just have to keep on working and hopefully we can win one for the Mistic and Hydroxycut guys."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "Going into the chicane on the first lap, Marco (Andretti) made a move in front of me and I couldn't stop quick enough. It clipped the front wing and I think it cut the tire too. So I had to pit immediately and that really killed the race for us. I thought I could get away with it but it cut the tire. My (left) thumb was okay during the race after spraining it Saturday. It felt a little numb at times because I think the tape might have been a little too tight. But it was okay. I just tried to fight back and stay on the lead lap as long as I could. It was hot in the car but I felt pretty good. I was able to get some air coming into my visor during the yellows. I had a close call with a piece of carbon that flew up from (Luca) Filippi's car. It hit the right mirror and almost me. It was close to hitting me in the head. That would have hurt."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "A frustrating, difficult day for us. We made a good start and went side-by-side with Munoz through the chicane, he forced me wide through the shortcut. I didn't gain an advantage, and didn't overtake him until turn 5. So I thought there shouldn't be a penalty. After that I overtook a couple cars on the track and gained some good positions. IndyCar saw it differently and told me to get behind Munoz who was three cars back. We lost a lot because of that but we kept going. We still got back to the top 10. Then on a restart, Marco tried to dive inside me in turn 4 and punted me and I was forced wide and picked up the marbles and I lost many positions. We pitted because the car didn't feel right and we thought it was another flat tire so we pitted. I kept fighting back and we got back into the top 10 but unfortunately I clipped a curb too high and the car bounced badly and hit the wall. After a long tough day it's a shame we couldn't achieve a good result. The car was good so hopefully we can have a good race in Pocono."
CARLOS HUERTAS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "Well I feel really good for yesterday and today is disappointing, but it is impossible to finish every race without having at least one problem. Hopefully we don't have any more. It was strange because the car just shut off completely. It must have been an electrical failure or something but we don't know right now. All in all, I am proud of our accomplishments this weekend."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 National Guard Honda): "It was a frustrating day, we had a great car. On the first stint I was just trying to stay consistent, which we were able to do. I tried to stay patient behind Aleshin and got by him when he pitted because I cranked off a really fast lap on my in-lap. We were right there and I thought we were going to have a good day. All of a sudden we had an issue with the gearbox control until and it lost all pressure and the car wouldn't shift. It was another bad luck day that we can't get back. The car was good though and that gives us hope for what's to come."
LUCA FILIPPI (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda): "At the beginning we were struggling a little with the red tires. I was trying to find my pace with too much front grip and towards the end of the stint it was much better. We were able to stay out and push and came out of the pit stop in fifth because of our strong pace. After that we were running well in fifth but unfortunately there was a slow puncture. So during a yellow we had to pit because we were losing pressure. So in that moment our strategy changed. We didn't know if we would make it to end with that second stop only or not so we pitted again. Maybe we could have finished the race without it, but after that we were still fast but towards the end we were in traffic and faster than the guys in front. There was an accident in front and I hit Bourdais and I lost part of the front wing so I started to have a lot of under steer but still we were able to overtake people. Then (Will) Power had a problem and Montoya got by him. In the meantime, I don't understand what happened, I braked in my normal place for that area and I hit him (Montoya). I don't know if he had a problem with fuel or tires but something happened to him because I was very surprised by his braking zone and I couldn't do anything but touch him. I went in the marbles and our race was over. We were top-seven and with all the issues we had it would have been a good result. We were fast. Obviously I'm not happy, but I gained a lot of experience this weekend. It's been a long time since I have raced and racing at a high level like this is not easy. To get the perfection you have to work on it and hopefully we will be there in Toronto. The weekend was surprising from a speed point of view; we were fast all the time. I made a few mistakes which I shouldn't have but I was pushing very hard and this is what happens when you do that. Generally you have to be optimistic and happy. Next time I will be used to the team and we have a foundation to get a good result."
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Honda): "I can't really explain my feeling. I just have so much emotion in this moment. We had a great qualifying today and a great car during all of the race and then I had a contact with Graham (Rahal) after his pit stop and then at this moment, I thought that that's it. But then I had a good strategy and as I said I had the same pace as the leaders so I could catch up and I would overtake some of them and because of the changes, we were up there. And then can you imagine? In the end I had a flat tire. I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps so I was really lucky to finish actually. Really lucky. I'm very happy and the team did an amazing job. Just can't even say. I don't even have any English words to thank the team for that because they did an amazing job."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 8 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It feels good to come out of this doubleheader in Houston with a top 10 finish. This series is just so competitive and it's a fight to the finish at every race. This one wasn't any different and we were able to come from 15th and get an eighth-place finish. It's still not exactly where NTT DATA Racing wants to be but we're getting closer."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chevrolet): "The No. 83 Levemir FlexTouch Chevrolet was quick - I kind of like it in the Levemir FlexTouch green. The Novo Nordisk guys did an awesome job in pit lane and the Chevy guys have been working really hard all weekend to give us an engine that's drivable and gets good mileage. Overall I'm really happy with a top-five finish and we just drove the wheels off of it when we could."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "Well that was obviously not the day we wanted to have with the Target car. Race 1 in Houston for us was unkind and today Race 2 was the same way with spec master cylinder issues. It just wasn't our weekend and we hope we'll have the same turn around to our season in Pocono next weekend like we did last season."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) : "Not a bad day I guess, but we need to be more competitive and run toward the front with the Target cars. It was hot again today and you really had to be in shape for two straight days of racing in these conditions. There was some really exciting racing out there and hope the fans here in Houston enjoyed it today."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Chevrolet): "To be honest it's been a pretty rough weekend. It hurts more when you have an amazing car and just not able to use it. Yesterday was Ryan Briscoe and today was a mechanical issue on my out lap. We had to pit a few times to try and fix it and once we were back out there the Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. - KV AFS Racing car was one of the quickest. Unfortunately, we were six laps down and could only advance through the field by other driver's mistakes, which is not where you want to be. I'm very proud of all my boys. They keep doing an awesome job. Days like this happen and we just have to regroup and look forward to Pocono next week."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing Honda): "Helio (Castroneves) was super fast on the red tires. The hit was really strong straight away so that's something I had to deal with straight away after Lap 12 to be honest. But I knew we had a fast car. I knew we would be okay. I had such fantastic traction and comfort in the car that I knew on blacks it would be all right and when we put the blacks on I could see Helio struggling and took my chance in Turn 4 with a really good pass, a good criss-cross opportunity and all was clean with Helio. I don't know what happened to him. Disappointed we couldn't run a fight to the end."
[On the Occulus Car] "What a beauty! First of all, I love the orange like this. The car looks really cool and in addition to that the package is incredible. It's the classiest of the field this weekend, which is why I was so disappointed yesterday. But we kept it nice today and as a race driver when you have car like this my job is to win and I did my job today."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I had a great car today; passed a lot of cars. We had a great first pit sequence with the Verizon Chevy. We were in position for a good day, considering where we qualified. We were going to maximize our points and we had a parts malfunction with two laps to go. It's the same part that malfunctioned on two other cars at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I feel bad for all the sponsors. We fought really hard all day with nothing to show for it. We have a nice lead in the points but we need to get back on track a little bit at Pocono."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "That was a fun day. The No. 2 Verizon Chevy was really good. It was good on both the 'red' tires and 'black' tires. We were in position there at the end. The racing was really hard right there. That was a good learning experience for me and I'll know how hard I can race the next time I'm in that situation. Very good points day for us. Now we go to Pocono where I have a lot of experience."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "We clearly can't drive when half of the race is run under yellow. I'm embarrassed almost to have been in that race with the amount of cautions there were. We had an engine problem and were running in the back... but I just can't believe how many cautions there were in the end. It was good for us. All those accidents were moving us up, because obviously we can't make any progress with a damaged car. But, I'm just gutted. It's such a long day out there when you're not really in the race. I think the United Fiber & Data car was competitive up until we had the problem. We'll just move on to the next one.'
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Snapple Honda): "The Snapple car was good today. We showed we were a contender for the win, but things didn't end in our favor. I need to get better at getting up to speed on cold tires - which is usually my strong point, so we need to figure that out. We got caught up with other cars at the end and were forced from fifth to 11th and just couldn't get back up to the front before the checkered."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Honda): "It's a really disappointing day after the great race we had yesterday. Today I was just pushing hard, trying hard. I was in a good position, for sure. I was fifth at that point (making contact), but this is racing. It was my mistake. I just lost the car, and now I'll focus on next week for Pocono."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Strike/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "Just a tough day. Nothing seemed to really go our way except for the first part of that race. I think we were doing a good job on strategy. We had great calls and good pit stops. The guys were solid on everything in the first part of the race. But just all day long if you look at the little things, we got bit by silly stuff. There was an incident in qualifying that I didn't agree with that sent us to the back. We tried a bit of an aggressive strategy but then we had a failure in the pits (wheel gun failure) so it's just a shame to not be able to put anything together while having good pace."
JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink Honda): "Just a fantastic day really. We've been starting up front so many times this year and it's not happened on Race Day. Today, we had a terrible qualifying and we end up on the podium. The guys did a great job on pit wall. We were quick at the right time. We were able to pass cars at the right time and I'm so delighted and so proud of Bryan Herta Autosport. They really deserve this. It's been rough this year. We've been so fast on occasions and it's just not quite happened. We haven't been able to put it together and today we were able to do it."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda):"We fought issues with the drive train all day, so to be able to salvage points and bring home a sixth-place finish was big for us. At this point in the season every point counts and we want to do everything we can to close in on the championship."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "It was a frustrating end to my day. I think we were the first guys to pit, no, Aleshin came in two laps before us so on our lap we were the first ones. I thought we were good and I thought it was going to work out. We struggled a bit on restarts so guys were all over the back of me. I knew that if I could hang on for a couple of laps I would get going and be quick again. Marco tried to come down the inside and it wasn't really going to happen. He tried to get out of it and he just tapped me into the wall. He came down and apologized and said 'I didn't mean to do that.' It is just racing. I know it was just a mistake and it is a shame but we kept going on when we were a lap down and we were trying to salvage any points we can."