Houston Update: James Hinchcliffe leads at halfway

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A solid first pit stop for James Hinchcliffe has helped him take control of Race 1 at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, which has crossed the halfway mark with him ahead of Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson.

A quick downpour leading up to the green flag left the 1.7-mile, 10-turn NRG Park circuit damp for the standing start, which was delayed by extra pace laps. The delay caused IndyCar to invoke a 1-hour, 50-minute time limit.

At the start, Simon Pagenaud was able to get away clean to keep his lead from pole while Takuma Sato made contact while going between two cars. But Sato’s car stood up to the run-in, and he quickly set out for the front.

On Lap 3, Sato was able to pass both Hinchcliffe and Castroneves for second at Turn 3, and a short time later, he went to the inside of Pagenaud going into Turn 6 and out-braked him for P1.

Sato pulled out to a lead of several seconds on Hinchcliffe after Pagenaud faded back a few spots. But Sato’s edge slowly went away as he was unable to pass Hinchcliffe’s teammate, Marco Andretti, who was trying to get on the lead lap.

Andretti was given the blue flag to move over, but Race Control felt he did not heed it quickly enough and gave him the black flag. Still, Sato held the point as the first wave of green-flag stops began.

With an hour and 15 minutes remaining in the race, Hinchcliffe and Sato stopped for service. But a lightning-fast stop from the Canadian’s Andretti Autosport crew got him out ahead of Sato.

That occurred before Mike Conway went into the tires at Turn 3 to bring out the first full-course yellow of the day. The green came back out with 1 hour, 6 minutes left, but going into Turn 6, disaster struck for Sato.

Appearing not to notice the lapped car of Mikhail Aleshin on the inside, Sato moved right and made contact with the rookie. The two then went into the outside wall, ending both of their days.

Sato’s team owner, A.J. Foyt, was thoroughly agitated.

“The deal with Marco, more or less – I’d have to say blocking for his own damn car is a bunch of crap,” said the four-time Indy 500 champion.

“They don’t seem like they want to do anything there, and this deal here [with Aleshin] was probably just as much [Sato] on trying to move over with the other boy.

“But what gets you – a car a lap down, you think they’d back off. But I don’t know. You got a bunch of goddamn idiots is all I can say.”

After the mess was cleaned up, Luca Filippi then clipped the inside wall at Turn 10 coming to the next restart before slamming into the outside and inside front stretch walls to end his day. Finally, the race returned to green and some semblance of rhythm with about 47 minutes left.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.