Simon Pagenaud leads 1-2 finish for Schmidt team in Houston Race 2 (VIDEO)

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Simon Pagenaud may have had the fastest car throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader weekend in Houston, but brake problems on his car meant that he didn’t get to show it in Saturday’s Race 1.

In today’s Race 2, he had no such problems and went on to lead Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to a 1-2 finish at NRG Park. Pagenaud’s second win of the season also bolsters his title hopes; while he stayed fourth in the standings, he moved to within 59 points of leader Will Power.

Climbing out of his No. 77 Oculus Transport Honda, Pagenaud apologized for not being exuberant over his success due to the hot and humid conditions this afternoon in Houston. But he was still very much pleased.

“The car was just beautiful,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “I don’t know if you saw the on-board but it was awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else [more] could you expect from a driver?

“That’s why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. Thanks to the group at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We regrouped really well after Detroit and they came up with this package. Beautiful.”

When asked if today was the most challenging race he’s done, Pagenaud answered in the affirmative.

“Not in terms of steering effort, but exhaustion from heat,” he said. “There was no air. As you could see under yellows, I was opening the visor but the safety car was going so slow, so I wasn’t getting any air in the helmet. Even the safety car was worse than running fast. But, yeah – good day though!”

Additionally, two rookies were able to hit the Houston podium for the second day in a row. SPHM’s own rookie, Mikhail Aleshin, survived a mid-race incident with Graham Rahal to finish second, while Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth finished third after fighting off veterans such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball.

Aleshin thought his day was over after he ran into the back of Rahal on Lap 29 following the American’s pit stop.

“At that moment, I thought that was it,” said the Russian, who made his last stop on Lap 51 of 90. “But we had a good strategy and I had the same pace as the leaders, so I could catch up and overtake some of them – and with the strategy, we were up there.

“And then – can you imagine? – in the end, I had a flat tire. I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps, so I was really lucky to finish actually. Really lucky. The team did an amazing job. I don’t have any English words to thank the team for that, because they did an amazing job.”

Hawksworth has shown promising flashes of speed up to today, and he definitely deserves his podium following his battle with the likes of Montoya and Kimball.

But he also benefited from Power suffering a rear suspension failure in the final few laps, which forced him to abandon a possible podium of his own. The Australian wound up finishing 11th.

However, his closest title pursuer, Helio Castroneves, crashed today on Lap 49. That means Power’s lead over the Brazilian has returned to 39 points – the same margin he had going into the weekend.

Castroneves was a threat to win today from the pole position, but lost the lead to Pagenaud following a Lap 48 restart. One lap later, contact with Sebastien Bourdais sent into the outside retaining wall at Turn 6.

Bourdais sustained a damaged front wing in the incident but battled through it to finish fifth behind Kimball in fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth today, followed by Montoya in seventh, Ryan Briscoe in eighth, Marco Andretti in ninth, and Tony Kanaan in 10th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
Race 2 at NRG Park – Final Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
2. (2) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
3. (23) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 90, Running
4. (19) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
5. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 90, Running
6. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
7. (14) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
8. (15) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
9. (16) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
10. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
11. (18) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
12. (6) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 89, Running
13. (17) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy, 89, Running
14. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, 89, Running
15. (12) Luca Filippi, Rahal-Honda, 88, Running
16. (4) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 87, Running
17. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 84, Running
18. (11) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 78, Running
19. (10) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 74, Contact
20. (22) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 61, Mechanical
21. (1) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 48, Contact
22. (9) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 40, Contact
23. (13) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 2, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 78.981 mph
Time of Race: One hour, 51 minutes, 43.0625 seconds
Margin of victory: 7.2622 seconds
Cautions: 5 for 21 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1 – 30
Pagenaud 31
Castroneves 32 -48
Pagenaud 49 – 90

Point Standings: Power 405, Castroneves 366, Hunter-Reay 364, Pagenaud 346, Montoya 289, Andretti 281, Munoz 270, Bourdais 242, Dixon 237, Hinchcliffe 229.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.