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.