For the first half of Sunday's race, the second of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, it couldn't have looked better for Penske's Helio Castroneves. Starting from pole position he led for all but one of the first 48 laps, easily controlling the threat from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport's Simon Pagenaud.
With no inclement weather to deal with unlike the previous day's outing, the outlook for the Brazilian appeared ideal. It was a far cry from last year's visit to Houston where Castroneves' championship campaign was effectively derailed by an appalling run of luck in this same event, and he seemed well on course to dispel the demons that 2013 had cast.
Unfortunately that all changed with the first caution of the day, triggered by Carlos Munoz' retirement. That packed the field up and gave Pagenaud a chance to overtake him at the restart - and the Frenchman needed no second invitation to do just that. Castroneves was busy lining up an immediate counterstrike when disaster struck and he instead made contact with Sebastien Bourdais in the run down to turn 6.
"When I lost the lead with Pagenaud, I was actually trying to attack him," Castroneves confirmed. "And actually, I was attacking him and trying to pass him. So, right now I'm just trying to pass and see if I'm going to run out of room so I come back to try to do the apex and I had no idea he [Bourdais] was there.
"Obviously when I'm attacking, I can't have my eyes in the back," Castroneves asserted, laying the blame for the clash firmly on Bourdais for sticking his nose where it wasn't justified. "It's absolutely ridiculous when the guy has to put the car over there. But anyway; it's the rules of traffic. The guy that hits the guy in the back it's always wrong. You've got to take care of it.
"Sorry, but I'm frustrated a little bit," Castroneves admitted. "I am upset, yes, because we had a great car. It's still like 30 laps to go. I wasn't even panicking or anything like that. But it is what it is and I'll move on and see what happens ... It's always going to have ups and downs."
For his part, Bourdais saw the incident very differently: "I knew the first lap on the restart I was going to have an advantage on options, and I did. I passed a couple of cars. Then when I got to Helio and Simon, both went to the inside. I got to them, I moved to the right, and when I got a wheel a little bit over, then he decided to take that line as well."
The collision wrecked Bourdais' front wing, but rather than lose time and track position coming in for a replacement he soldiered on despite the loss of downforce. A subsequent collision with the rear of Tony Kanaan's car actually helped level out the damage and enabled Bourdais to salvage fifth place at the line. Even so, Bourdais was unhappy as he thought about what might have been.
"[It] is a real shame because that destroyed a chance for us to win, and destroyed a chance for him to put up strong points," said Bourdais. "It is what it is, but we'll keep at it, and see when we can score a win."
The loss of points will definitely be the salt in Castroneves' wound: although his team mate and championship rival Will Power was running in the top four at the time of the incident, the Australian suffered a late mechanical issue that dropped him down to 11th place at the finish, so not capitalising on the situation with a win is a huge setback for Castroneves.
"We were in position for a good day, considering where we qualified," said Power, who had started the race in 18th place on the grid for the second successive day. "We were going to maximize our points and we had a parts malfunction with two laps to go. It's the same part that malfunctioned on two other cars at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis."
Even so, Power still has a 39 point lead over Castroneves coming out of Houston, meaning that his title bid is still on course: "We have a nice lead in the points but we need to get back on track a little bit at Pocono," he said.