6 October 2013
Dixon wins race 1 in Houston as title fight heats up
In amongst all these tales of woes it was a relief to see some good news - good for Simona de Silvestro, at least, who put on a lovely slide pass on Pagenaud for third place in the race. Power and Dixon were still in a commanding lead, but Dixon's race was briefly frustrated when Marco Andretti exited from pit lane right between the #12 and #9 and made it impossible for the Ganassi car to get by, temporarily freeing up the Penske to scamper down the road in the meantime. However once Dixon did get by the lapped car, he was soon able to hunt down the leader and resume his watching brief right on the back bumper of the Verizon car until they reached the pit window for a two-stopper. Dixon was in first at the end of lap 36 and Power responded next time around: a great outlap by Dixon and a slight glitch with the jack on the #12 was enough to swing the situation in the Kiwi's favour.
There was less cheer for Dixon's team mate Franchitti, however, who was the cause of the second safety car of the day when he spun at turn 3 while battling de Silvestro, which left the #10 broadside on across the middle of the track and giving race control no choice but to show the full course caution. That was something of a relief to the AJ Foyt Racing team, who had lost radio comms with Sato and had been forced to get race control to show their driver the black flag to call him in for his pit stop to attend to the matter.
The race went back to green at the midway point of the 90-lap race, Dixon convincingly holding onto the lead while Pagenaud struggled on the cold prime tyres and lost positions to Luca Filippi, Sebastien Bourdais and Simona de Silvestro in short order to drop to sixth ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and EJ Viso. However, once the #77 warmed its boots Pagenaud was soon able to start fighting back on on lap 54 he made a smooth move by de Silvestro to get back into the top five again. Both cars were in early for their final calls to pit road on lap 62.
Less happy with life was Hunter-Reay, who was on pit lane minutes later with what looked to be a similar gearbox issue as had earlier afflicted Castroneves, but which turned out instead to be more terminal electrical issues that the Andretti crew were unable to locate and fix. Also suffering from electrical or gear-related problems was the #4 Panther Racing car of Oriol Servia who was left coasting to a halt in turn 3 on lap 65 to bring out the caution flags once more.
That was just after Scott Dixon had just pitted for the final time. He'd exited in fourth place which was soon third after after Bourdais came in for his own final stop under the yellow, but both Power and Filippi opted to stay out ahead of him despite knowing that they still had to make their own final stops of the afternoon and desperately hoping for a miracle in the final 19 laps remaining of the day's racing.
Pagenaud once again struggled to make the #77 work at the restart, making him easy prey for both Dale Coyne Racing cars of Justin Wilson and Mike Conway to get past him in what had been proving to be an effective and feisty afternoon for both Brits. Unfortunately, Conway was caught out by the next caution, which was triggered by Sato running wide and into the tyres on the racing line out of turn 3 while battling with James Jakes. The #14 was stuck under a collapsed pile of tyres as Conway came through the corner without realising that the racing line was blocked, and he was forced to spin into the run-off to avoid crashing into the stricken Sato. His recovery plunged him from fifth all the way down to 14th place and a lap down by the time he got back underway.
Castroneves had also been caught up in that incident, and he was also the cause of the next caution on lap 79 when he ran off and stalled at exactly the same spot as he had a few minutes earlier, this time stalling and needing to be restarted. This was all excellent news to Dixon, who knew that he if he made it to the finish in the lead then he'd have made up huge ground in the points standings over Castroneves.
Dixon's campaign was helped by Power and Filippi having to make their final stop: Power dropped to 11th and was quickly passed by Filippi and Andretti at the restart, Filippi quickly moving past Kimball as well to make a rapid return to the top ten. At the front, Dixon took off for safety at warp speed despite fears that he might have a slow puncture as a result of running over debris behind the safety car. With Power and Filippi out of the way, de Silvestro and Wilson had moved into podium positions ahead of Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and James Jakes.
Mike Conway's day - which had looked so bright only a few minutes ago before that incident falling over Sato's accident - was going from bad to worse. First he accidentally tapped Dario Franchitti into a spin, and then a few minutes later he ran wide into turn 3 while battling with Marco Andretti. That planted him into the same tyre barrier that Sato had himself been stuck in: initially it looked as though the #18 might be able to reverse out of the problem, but the car stalled and race control had no option but to call a full course caution. With only two laps remaining there was now no chance to restart, so the race duly finished under yellow.
It was a triumph for Dixon, his fourth victory of the year and a huge boost for the Kimi's title prospects given the disastrous day experienced by his chief rival Helio Castroneves who ended up listed in 18th position, wiping out almost all of his lead in the title battle. Dixon's celebrations were made just that little bit sweeter by the sight of Power left moribund in 12th place.
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