HOUSTON (AP) – Simon Pagenaud, the Frenchman who thought he had a winning car in the first race of the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, finally picked up a victory in Sunday’s second race.
The victory, the second of the season for Pagenaud, allowed him to significantly cut into Will Power’s lead in the championship standings. Pagenaud came to Houston down 91 points to Power, but cut it to 59 following his victory.
Although he spent all last week training in California to prepare for the heat and humidity in Houston, he felt the effects of temperatures that soared into the 90s after he climbed from his car.
"I’m sorry, guys, I might be a little faint," he said in Victory Lane. "It was really hot. Really hot. There’s exhaustion from heat. I mean, there is no air under the visor."
It was redemption for Pagenaud, who started from the pole Saturday but had his race ruined when he first spun, then was collected in Scott Dixon’s crash. He finished 16th in the first race.
"I was so disappointed Saturday because we had such a fast car this weekend," he said.
The rest of the podium was packed with newcomers as IndyCar celebrated four rookies on this topsy-turvy weekend.
On Saturday, rookie Carlos Huertas got his first victory and led a Colombian sweep of the rain-soaked podium with Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Carlos Munoz.
Sunday, under an oppressive sun, Pagenaud led his rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin to his first podium and a 1-2 finish for team owner Sam Schmidt. Aleshin, the first Russian driver in IndyCar history, battled a tire problem to make it to the finish.
Jack Hawksworth, another rookie, drove from last to third for his first career podium. It capped a breakthrough weekend for the British driver, who finished a career-best sixth Saturday.
"It’s been rough this year, we’ve been fast sometimes and just not quite made it happen," said Hawksworth. "We’ve not quite put it together and today we did."
Power had been headed to a third-place finish but failed to finish when a part broke on his car two laps from the finish. Pagenaud, Aleshin and Power had peeled away from the pack, leaving Hawksworth behind for a spirited battle to hold on for fourth-place.
Then Power went off course and fell to 11th. Still, he entered the weekend with a 39 point lead in the standings and that was unchanged.
Hoping to close ground on Power this weekend was Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who was ninth Saturday but started from the pole on Sunday looking for a win. Instead, he was chasing Pagenaud from second for the lead early in the race when he drove into Sebastien Bourdais.
Castroneves had been setting up his pass of Pagenaud and apparently didn’t see Bourdais when he suddenly tried to cut into the same lane as Bourdais. Castroneves wound up 21st.
"I was attacking and trying to pass Pagenaud, and I had no idea (Bourdais) was there," Castroneves said. "When I am attacking, I can’t have my eyes on the back. It’s absolutely ridiculous why the guy had to put the car over there. It’s the rules of traffic, when a guy hits a guy in the back, it’s his fault. I am upset, yes, because we had a great car and it’s just a shame to have drivers like that who do not use common sense."
The contact broke Bourdais’ front wing while he was running third, caused him to fall through the field, but he rallied to finish fifth, behind Charlie Kimball, despite the damage. It marked consecutive top-five finishes for the first time this season for Bourdais.
Huertas, winner Saturday, and Munoz, who finished third, both failed to finish on Sunday.