HOUSTON – Not everything was bigger in Texas on a hot and humid weekend in which a pair of small IndyCar teams claimed the commemorative cowboy boots from the Grand Prix of Houston.
Sam Schmidt’s drivers went 1-2 on Sunday for the first time in team history as Simon Pagenaud grabbed the win and led rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin to the checkered flag. Pagenaud used the win, his second of the season, to climb back into the championship race.
He came to Houston trailing Will Power by 91 points, and cut it to 59 after the two races.
“It’s fantastic for the race team and the entire organization,” said Pagenaud, who admitted after the race to feeling “a little faint” from temperatures that soared into the 90s. “The whole team has elevated to top team level.”
Aleshin, the first Russian to compete in IndyCar, was a career-best second for his first podium and said a tire problem nearly prevented him from making it to the finish.
“It’s definitely an amazing day for the team,” he said. “We are one of the fastest cars on the track and I think we did an amazing job today. The whole team did an amazing job.”
Third went to rookie Jack Hawksworth, 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.”
A day earlier, Dale Coyne Racing scored its first win of the year with rookie Carlos Huertas. The rookie led a Colombian sweep of the rain-soaked podium alongside countrymen Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Carlos Munoz.
It was a race Pagenaud thought he should have won.
He spent the previous week training in California for the heat and humidity, and won the pole for the first race of the doubleheader. His race was ruined, though, first by a spin and then when he 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.
Power, the points leader, rallied from another poor qualifying effort to put himself in position for a third-place finish. But he failed to make it to the finish line 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.
“He changed lanes and we made pretty heavy contact,” Bourdais said of Castroneves’ move. “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.”
Huertas, winner Saturday, and Munoz, who finished third on Saturday, both failed to finish on Sunday and were the first two cars out.
It was a topsy-turvy weekend like that in which Munoz was the only driver from the big three teams -- Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske -- to earn a podium.