Will Power clinched victory in the second race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader weekend, and while Power himself is no longer in the running for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship his success may still have important ramifications on who does get to walk away with this year's title.
Power's Penske team mate Helio Castroneves came into this weekend in the lead of the championship standings, but after a disastrous Saturday outing which saw him suffer costly gearbox issues his points lead over Scott Dixon had dwindled to almost nothing. That meant Sunday was time for some serious damage limitation work from the Brazilian.
To that end, Castroneves got an unexpected boost on Sunday - and it was thanks to the weather. Overnight storms had led to the washout of the morning's warm-up and qualifying sessions, leaving the grid lining up according to entrants points. That meant Castroneves had just lucked into pole position with Dixon joining him on the front row for the standing start, and there was every hope that with a moral booster like this Helio would be able to steady the ship and restore some of his championship lead.
The rain meant that the drivers had to be wary of damp patches lingering in parts of the 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street course, but on the plus side they were spared the hot, humid conditions that had roasted them for the first race on Saturday as they lined up for the start. As usual there was the initial aborted attempt to get the race underway, with Dario Franchitti stalling and Takuma Sato struggling and failing to get his car into the correct position further back.
Things were better the second time around, although an agonisingly long wait for the green light baited Marco Andretti into making a jump start which was swiftly penalised. Everyone got away cleanly with Castroneves maintaining his lead over championship rival Scott Dixon, while further back there were some early aggressive moves from Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay to make up positions while everyone was closely packed together.
The initial green flag stint only lasted three laps before the first full course caution, triggered by Simona de Silvestro hopping across the kerbs in turn 8; she just about made the corner but in doing so herded Graham Rahal into the tyre wall, also blocking the track for Tristan Vautier. De Silvestro was handed a drive-thru penalty for triggering the accident in the first place.
The race resumed single-file on lap 7 with Castroneves on point, but Dixon was yelling on the radio to tell his team that fluid was streaming out of the back of the race leader's car. It took a few minutes for the discharge from the #3 to become clear on the TV cameras but soon it was undeniable and race control were considering black flagging Castroneves when the situation emphatically resolved itself: Castroneves' gearbox housing failed catastrophically and the engine cut out at the start of lap 11. The Brazilian tried limping back to pit lane but the car didn't have it in it to make it round and finally died in turn 7 to trigger a new caution and signal disaster for his 2013 championship title hopes. The Penske crew got to work and rebuilt the car in record time, but Castroneves was down 36 laps by the time he was able to gingerly make his way back out onto the track.
That was a relief for Dixon whose car had by now been thoroughly soaked in oil, making traction all but impossible. It had allowed Castroneves' Penske team mate Will Power to get past the remaining traffic and take up residence on the tail end of the #9 for the restart, with Simon Pagenaud is third ahead of Justin Wilson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, while the biggest mover at this stage was Luca Filippi who was up to 12th place from 23rd on the grid in the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car.
Racing resumed on lap 16 with Dixon relieved to at last be rid of the troublesome oil spill of a car in front and basking in the clear air ahead as he pulled clear of Power by a second and a half. Less happy was Pagenaud, whose handling fell away precipitously allowing Ryan Hunter-Reay to make an easy pass; the #77 was soon so slow that Justin Wilson had to check up to avoid running into the back of the Frenchman and in the process got jumped for position by James Hinchcliffe.