Scott Dixon blew the IZOD IndyCar Series title race back open with his victory in the first race of this weekend’s double-header on Houston’s Reliant Park street circuit.
The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver spent the opening phase of the race stalking early leader Will Power, and claimed the advantage when the Australian was delayed in the pits.
The pair remained at the front during the next stint, but the key moment came when Dixon capitalized on one of the many caution periods to make his final stop under yellows and rejoin in third behind Power and Luca Filippi, both of whom still had a stop to make.
Their stops a short time later handed the lead back to Dixon, who put in an extraordinary lap on the final restart to open a gap of 2.7sec over Simona de Silvestro in just one tour. He added another half-second next time around, although the buffer would prove unnecessary when Mike Conway hit the tires with three laps to go and forced the race to finish under yellow.
“I’ve been in Helio’s position before where you’ve got to try and keep it simple and get the points that you need,” said a jubilant Dixon. “But it’s very hard to dial it a back and not get caught up in mistakes or problems with the car.”
The effects of Dixon’s win were magnified by a catastrophic weekend for championship rival Helio Castroneves, who entered the weekend with a 49-point lead, but saw that advantage reduced to just eight. The Brazilian qualified near the back, and then lost several laps in the pits having a gearbox problem attended to. He later lost more time to an array of minor incidents, but by that point it was academic.
“Obviously, that was a tough finish for the Shell-Pennzoil team,” said Castroneves. “Early in the race, the car was bottoming out in a couple of places and then I just couldn’t shift. It was a helluva job by the Shell and Pennzoil guys to figure out the problem and get me back on track.
“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 so we can be ready for tomorrow. On the positive side, we still have the lead in the championship and I think we will be in good shape for Race 2. We need to have a good qualifying and bounce back with a strong race.”
Meanwhile, Conway’s incident may inadvertently have cost his Dale Coyne teammate a second place, as Justin Wilson was applying intense pressure to de Silvestro before the appearance of the yellows forced him to back off. Third was still a strong result for the Briton considering that he had been forced to pit with a puncture halfway through the race.
But de Silvestro was equally good value for the runner-up position; the KV driver having spent the entire afternoon in the top five before securing her first career IndyCar podium.
“Finally. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” declared de Silvestro. “It seemed like a pretty good car the whole weekend. I qualified up there and then the race went actually pretty good. I really have to thank everybody at KV Racing, and also everybody from the Nuclear Clean Energy campaign for sticking with me. Finally we have our podium. Hopefully tomorrow we can even better it!”
Simon Pagenaud was fourth after a race spent mostly within striking range of the podium punctuated by one or two bad restarts, with Josef Newgarden rounding out the top five.
The final count of seven caution periods points to an eventful afternoon, with some of the most significant misfortunes affecting the Andretti camp.
James Hinchcliffe encountered a problem on the start and was hit by both Tristan Vautier and Ed Carpenter, while Ryan Hunter-Reay was one of many to fall victim to mechanical problems.
It was also a disastrous outing for polesitter Takuma Sato, whose miseries included an early puncture, a broken radio, and a trip into the tire barriers.
|Pos.||Car #||Driver||Laps||Running / Reason Out|
|2||78||Simona De Silvestro||90||Running|
|10||98||Luca Filippi (R)||90||Running|
|22||55||Tristan Vautier (R)||32||Running|