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IndyCar: Houston Race 2 – Pagenaud wins; rookies Aleshin, Hawksworth follow

Photo: Chris Jones

 

Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport, Honda) was penalized and put on probation for failing to yield to multiple blue flags in Race 1. He qualified P16 for Race 2. Helio Castroneves (Team Penske, Chevrolet), who finished ninth in Race 1 took the pole for Race 2, with rookie Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda) lining up next to him on Row 1. Aleshin retired from Race 1 early after contact with Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Enterprises, Honda). Race 1 winner rookie Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing, Honda) qualified P13.

The weather was dry and hot, unlike the wet conditions at the start of Race 1. Also unlike Race 1, a rolling start was used. Castroneves held the lead through Turn 2, with Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Honda) making it past Aleshin into second. It was the sixth race Castroneves has led in the 10 he’s started this year. Heurtas retired during Lap 3 with an unknown drive train problem.

By the end of Lap 11 Castroneves and Pagenaud had pulled to a 4.5354-sec lead over Aleshin. Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing, Chevy) was the only driver in the Top 10 on the black primary tires. Castroneves built his lead over Pagenaud to 2.0446 sec over the next seven laps. Pagenaud closed back to within 1 sec by the end of Lap 22.

Castroneves and Pagenaud both pitted during Lap 32 after hearing reports of debris on track. The running order remained the same. Aleshin fell through the ranks after contact with Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda) following their pit stops, with Rahal’s car damaged as well.

Will Power (Team Penske, Chevy) emerged from the pit cycle in third after starting P18 for the second straight day. Pagenaud began to pressure Castroneves during Lap 35 (of 90), the two making contact in the process. Just 0.8164 sec covered Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power at the end of Lap 37. Bourdais ran fourth, followed by rookie Luca Filippi (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda).

A full-course caution came out during Lap 42 when Carlos Munoz (Andretti HVM, Honda) came into Turn 10 too hot and hit the outside wall. Filippi pitted under the yellow, moving Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports, Chevy) into P5 and giving Penske three cars in the Top 5.

The green flag flew at the end of Lap 47, Bourdais passing Power during the lap to take third. Pagenaud took the lead from Castroneves during Lap 48, with the Brazilian hitting the wall shortly afterwards under pressure from Bourdais and bringing out another full-course yellow. Bourdais damaged his nose as well but remained on track. The Top 5 under the caution was Pagenaud, Bourdais, Power, Montoya, and Charlie Kimball (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy).

Racing resumed at the start of Lap 55. Montoya passed Power for third during the lap. Bourdais, with minimal down force due to the damaged wing, missed the chicane during Lap 57 and had to give P2 to Montoya. Pagenaud built his lead to 5.5209 sec by the end of Lap 59, with Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport, Honda) taking third from Bourdais the next lap. Montoya pitted from second during Lap 61.

Pagenaud pitted two laps later, with Andretti and Power following suit and full-course caution number three waving while they were on pit lane. Pagenaud emerged from the pits with the lead intact, Aleshin, Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing, Honda), and rookie Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb Agajanian, Honda) following but on a different pit sequence, Aleshin having run 14 laps since his last stop and the other two drivers 12. Will Power, on the same sequence as Pagenaud, ran fifth.

Lap 67 began with a wave of the green flag. Andretti pushed Wilson into the tires during the lap and the yellow flew again. With Wilson out of the picture, the Top 5 shuffled to Pagenaud, Aleshin, Hawksworth, Power, Andretti.

Green flag racing returned with 18 laps to go. Power passed Hawksworth during Lap 73, with Montoya pressuring next, but losing his spot to Kimball in the process. The full-course caution came out again during Lap 76. Top 5: Pagenaud, Aleshin, Power, Hawksworth, and Kimball. All cars had the fuel to run to the finish.

A new green dawned for a 9-lap sprint to the finish. Aleshin had four push-to-passes left vs. Pagenaud’s one. At the end of Lap 85 Pagenaud had opened up a 2.4897-sec lead on Aleshin, with another 5.5573 sec back to Power. Power’s rear suspension broke during Lap 89, moving Hawksworth into third, after having started last on the grid.

At the checkered flag, Pagenaud and Aleshin finished 1-2 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with Hawksworth taking the third step on the podium for owner Bryan Herta.  “Heat. The race was fine. Awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grid,” said Pagenaud, also remarking that he was feeling a little faint and “might not be like Helio.”

“I just have so much emotion at this moment,” said Aleshin. “We had a good strategy and I had the same pace as the leaders,” revealing that he ran the slow tire flat for the final few laps.

“Just a fantastic day really,” said Hawkworth. “We were quick at the right time and able to catch cars at the right time. We’ve been so fast on occasion in its just not quite happened.”

Aleshin and Hawksworth join Huertas and Munoz from Race 1 to put four rookies on the podium over the race weekend.

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