HOUSTON -- Scott Dixon's prescience 48 hours earlier was uncanny and the outcome of Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston was equally stunning.
The two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion, who entered the third doubleheader of the season 49 points behind championship front-runner Helio Castroneves, said though he needed a tall ladder to get out of the hole "if we could get a little bad luck on their part ..."
That, indeed, occurred and Dixon pressed to his fourth victory of the season, putting distance between his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car and the No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva car of Simona De Silvestro on a restart with 10 laps left on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway. He crossed the finish line under caution.
Click it: Race 1 box score || Listen to post-race news conference
“I’ve been in Helio’s position before where you’ve got to try and keep it simple and get the points that you need," Dixon said. "But it’s very hard to dial it a back and not get caught up in mistakes or problems with the car.”
Castroneves finished 18th in the No. 3 Shell Pennzoil Team Penske car and takes an eight-point advantage into the penultimate race of the season (1 p.m. ET Oct. 6 on NBC Sports Network). Castroneves, who qualified a season-low 21st, developed a shifter issue early in the race and dropped nine laps behind during repairs on pit lane. He had been the only driver to complete all 2,003 laps entering the race.
“Obviously, that was a tough finish for the Shell-Pennzoil team," said the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion who is seeking his first series title. "Early in the race, the car was bottoming out in a couple of places and then I just couldn’t shift. It was a helluva job by the Shell and Pennzoil guys to figure out the problem and get me back on track.
"It’s tough but it’s something that’s out of our control. I tried to earn as many points as I could and really just focus on making the car better so we can be ready for (Race 2). On the positive side, we still have the lead in the championship and I think we will be in good shape for Race 2. We need to have a good qualifying and bounce back with a strong race.”
Click it: "Finally, we have our podium," says De Silvestro
Dixon has an average finish of 2.2 through five of the six races that constitute doubleheaders and 7.1 on street circuits. He can earn another SONAX Perfect Finish Award, adding $50,000 to the $100,000 he earned by sweeping the races at Exhibition Place in Toronto in July, with a victory in Race 2. Dixon's next victory will tie Al Unser Jr. for sixth on the all-time Indy car list with 34.
“I hope they’re worried," Dixon continued. "Hopefully we can have another good race (Oct. 6). It would be nice to be in the lead going into Fontana. To have a little bit of buffer would be really nice.”
It will be the eighth consecutive season that the championship will be determined in the finale. In 2008, Dixon had a 43-point margin over Castroneves with two races left and wound up securing his second title by 17 points.
Dixon, who started third, pitted on Lap 64 just before a full-course caution for the stopped car of Oriol Servia. Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car regained the point on the exchange, but he had to pit for the final time on Lap 73, which put Dixon back at the front of the field for the duration.
De Silvestro, coming off a fifth place at Baltimore, posted her best finish in the KV Racing Technology-prepared car and was her IZOD IndyCar Series high. Justin Wilson swept up to third place for his fourth podium of the season and Simon Pagenaud finished fourth (he's 50 points off the lead). Josef Newgarden earned his fifth top five of the season.
“Finally. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time," De Silvestro said. "It seemed like a pretty good car the whole weekend. I qualified up there and then the race went actually pretty good. Hopefully tomorrow we can even better it. (The circuit is) definitely tough because you don’t have that much time to relax. The straightaways are really bumpy so you really have to be on top of the car every time. I think to finish P2 , I think you want to do it again anytime.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's James Jakes and Graham Rahal, who started 24th, followed in the order. Seventh was Rahal's best finish since he placed fifth at Iowa Speedway in June. It was Jakes' first top 10 since finishing second at Belle Isle in early June.
"To go from 24th to seventh is always a good day," Rahal said. "If we can qualify a little more toward the front, I feel really good about our chances in Race 2. If we can qualify in the front, we can definitely run up there.”