Jimmy Vasser scored his first win for nearly two years with a well judged ride around the bumpy streets of Houston as Gil De Ferran closed in on his first Fed-Ex Championship title.
Sunday's Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston made up in tension what it lacked in on track action and as the 100 laps drew to a close, a clear favourite finally emerged for this year's Fed-Ex Championship title.
Gil De Ferran's cool drive to third position was enough to give him a commanding 19 point lead in the points table with just two rounds to go and the Marlboro Team Penske driver is now red hot favourite to end the Target/Chip Ganassi team's four year reign as champions.
However the two Target sponsored Lola-Toyota's were the stars of the show when it was all said and done with Jimmy Vasser taking his first win since Fontana 1998 and reigning champion Juan Montoya coming home in second position to keep his title hopes alive, just. In fact both Vasser and Montoya can still mathematically win this year's championship, as do Roberto Moreno, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Adrian Fernandez, Kenny Brack, and Helio Castroneves although it will take a remarkable downturn in fortunes for De Ferran to lose the title now.
Surfers Paradise is next and De Ferran's Reynard-Honda package will be definitely be amongst the pace –setters. The Fontana Superspeedway is a bit of an unknown and virtually anything can happen which means De Ferran will be looking to wrap up the title in Australia in two weeks time.
The Brazilian could well have won Sunday's event after making the bold decision to make a second pit stop as his rivals played it cautiously and tried to make the flag on just one stop. The fuel dilemma came about after eleven of the first twelve laps were run under caution after second place man Dario Franchitti clipped the wall at turn five just after the field were unleashed on the back straight. As he entered turn one for the first time at racing speed, Franchitti's right front suspension bowed under the strain and the Scotsman found himself in the tyres and out of the race.
No sooner had the field been given the green on lap six, Max Papis suddenly lost power as he tried to negotiate the tight Turn two. With nowhere to go, the following Memo Gidley rode up over the rear of Papis' Reynard-Ford giving the course workers an interesting problem in separating the two cars without causing any undue damage.
Papis was out with mechanical problems that left him with no drive out of the corner in the first place while Gidley was able to continue for a short while, four laps down and with a deranged suspension and eventually called it a day after 47 laps.
When the real racing got underway, pole man De Ferran was able to ease out a slight lead over Vasser who had the battling Castroneves and Montoya right behind him. The Colombian's attempts to get past Helio were easily the highlight of the opening 50 laps with the two drivers running side by side through the concrete lined streets on several occasions, neither one conceding but both giving each other just enough room to race hard. As in Vancouver Castroneves repelled the Colombian's challenge and it wasn't until the first round of pit stops that commenced on lap 50 that he was able to forge ahead.