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Houston Weekend Was Big For The Little Guys

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Monday, June 30 2014

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Small teams are suddenly coming up big in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

On Sunday, a day after rookie Carlos Huertas of Dale Coyne Racing won the opening race of a two-day double-header on the Houston street circuit, drivers from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports place first and second.

Simon Pagenaud won Sunday’s Race 2 of the Houston Grand Prix while his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports mate, Mikhail Aleshin was second on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary circuit.

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.

Rookie Jack Hawksworth of Curb Agajanian Racing made the small weekend even bigger by rounding out Sunday’s podium.

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.”

“We thought we had the class of the field (in Race 1), but it didn’t work out that way,” Schmidt Peterson team manager Rob Edwards said. “This is much better.”

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.”

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Monday, June 30 2014
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