HOUSTON -- It's down to Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian teammates for the Firestone Indy Lights championship.
That was determined when Sage Karam recorded his first road/street circuit victory in the Grand Prix of Houston while three of the four fellow title contenders faltered in the penultimate race of the season.
Karam, who started from the pole in the No. 8 Schmidt Peterson with Curb Agajanian after the lineup was set by entrant points, led every lap in the timed race on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway. Teammate Gabby Chaves, who entered the scheduled 45-lap race four points behind Karam, was second as the race ended under caution.
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Combined with the victory and bonus points for leading the most laps, Karam takes a 16-point lead over Chaves entering the finale Oct. 19 at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. Karam had recorded podium finishes in three of the previous four street course races.
"I can’t be happy enough with the team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, they give an awesome car to me every week," said Karam, who also won consecutive oval races at Milwaukee and Iowa Speedway in June. "To get this opportunity to go for the championship, I’m so thrilled about it, this being my first year in the series."
It was the ninth podium finish in 11 races for Chaves, also in his first season in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
“We were definitely way quicker than Sage," he said. "Even running in the dirty air, we could catch up to him and stay with him. It was just a bit of an unlucky thing that we had to start on the grid based on championship points, and not with who’s the fastest driver out there.
"We take it as it is and we’ll keep pushing for the next weekend at Fontana. Hat’s off to the whole SPM crew. They always put out the best cars that they can, and more than often, they are the best cars on the grid.
"It’s great that we’re two teammates fighting for the title. We’ll keep pushing to take the fight to him at Fontana.”
Carlos Munoz, who was second in the standings (two points back), finished a season-low 12th after the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport coasted to a stop in Turn 3 on Lap 25. Jack Hawksworth received a drive-through penalty for blocking on Lap 30 and went on to finish sixth. He entered 11 points out of the lead, while Peter Dempsey (35 points behind) placed ninth in the No. 2 TMR-RUS Industrial/ALS Association car.
All were eliminated from title contention.
"I know a couple of the guys that had been running up front for the championship had some bad luck today," Karam added. "I just have to focus on what I was doing, stay consistent like I said and bring the thing home. We brought it home and got maximum points going into Fontana. It’s good to know that I’m racing my teammate now for the championship because I’ve got all his data, and I can see everything he’s doing, I got the same car as him. Let’s just let the best man win."
Conor Daly, driving the No. 22 TMR-RUS Industrial/ALS Association car, advanced to finish third when the yellow flag flew on Lap 38 of the 40 completed for the stalled car of teammate Dempsey in Turn 7.
"I just had to be patient, really," said Daly, competing in his first Firestone Indy Lights race of the season. "I’m still learning the track and the car. When I went by (Jorge) Goncalvez, I finally figured out that I can trust this thing a little bit more on the brakes. But when I got around him, there was a mile and half gap. I have to thank Team Moore and all of our sponsors -- RUS Industrial and the ALS Association."