Houston Race 2 Update: Power leads Dixon; Castroneves back in race after repairs

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Team Penske’s Will Power (pictured) and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are scrapping for the lead as the second race of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston has crossed the halfway point.

For the second straight day, the initial attempt at a standing start went awry as both Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti were unable to get going. The second attempt went smoother, with Castroneves able to get past Dixon for the lead as they headed into the Turn 1-2 chicane.

But, the day’s opening caution quickly came out after a three-car incident in Turn 8 involving Tristan Vautier and Graham Rahal. Rahal was looking to set up Vautier for a pass on the inside, but Simona de Silvestro was also making a move on Rahal at the same time.

The result: Both Rahal and Vautier went into the tires; however, they were able to continue on and De Silvestro was hit with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

The drama continued on Lap 12, when Helio Castroneves suddenly lost power heading for Turn 6 – enabling Scott Dixon to take the lead of the race. Castroneves stopped on track, and when he was returned to pit road, his Team Penske crew diagnosed a cracked gearbox housing on the Brazilian’s machine.

While the Penske camp worked feverishly to fix the problem, Dixon settled in as the leader during the next green flag stint. An incident involving Luca Filippi brought out the yellow around Lap 30, and in the subsequent stops, Dixon was able to narrowly beat Power out of pit road to retain command of the race.

The green came back out at Lap 32, but Ryan Hunter-Reay was unable to get up to speed thanks to an apparent gearbox issue of his own. Shortly afterwards, the yellow returned on Lap 34 for Tony Kanaan’s crash around Turn 7.

That bunched up the field again for a restart at Lap 40, which eventually saw Power get around Dixon for the lead in the middle of Turn 3. In the same lap, Sebastien Bourdais also managed to pass two cars on the inside in Turn 6 and moved into the Top 5.

After 45 of 90 laps, Power led by six-tenths of a second over Dixon, followed by Sebastian Saavedra, who has risen to third thanks to the multiple cautions in the first half of the race. James Hinchcliffe is up to fourth, and Bourdais is still in fifth.

On Lap 47, Castroneves officially made his way back into the race – once again forced to salvage as many championship points as he can.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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