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Thursday September 29th, 2016 11:14PM

Simon Pagenuad grabs IndyCar victory at Houston

By IndyCar Media
  Contact Editor
HOUSTON, TX - Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin turned heartbreak in race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers into celebration in Victory Circle following an exhausting 90-lap battle in race 2.<br /> <br /> The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates finished 1-2 on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit in the second of three doubleheader events this season.<br /> <br /> Jack Hawksworth, a Verizon IndyCar Series rookie like Aleshin, leaped from qualifying last to finishing a season-high third. Charlie Kimball finished fourth and Sebastien Bourdais, who overcame a broken front wing sustained in contact on lap 49 with the car of Helio Castroneves, recovered to finish fifth.<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "We thought we had the class of the field (in race 1), but it didn't work out that way," team manager Rob Edwards said. "This is much better."<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "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."<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "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."<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "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."<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "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."<br /> <br /> <strong>Verizon IndyCar Series</strong><br /> <strong> MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway
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