|Scott Hargrove – happy today in Houston.|
Houston, Texas – Scott Hargrove claimed victory today in the strangest of fashions during the first leg of the Allied Building Products Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Houston Presented by Marlin CNG Services at MD Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park. The Canadian's third win of the season for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing moved him into the lead of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires after nine of this season's 14 races.
Fellow Canadian Garett Grist (Andretti Autosport) qualified on pole position for the second straight race but maintained his advantage only until Turn Two where erstwhile series points leader Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing) made a bold maneuver around the outside. Pigot's teammate, Kyle Kaiser, demoted Grist one more position at Turn Three.
The trio finished Lap 1 in that order – Pigot ahead of Kaiser and Grist – with Hargrove, who had started third, next in line but locked in combat with Nicolas Costa (Team Pelfrey) and his own teammate, Neil Alberico. Costa, on a charge from sixth on the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, then passed Hargrove cleanly into Turn Four. Alberico followed him through. Into the braking area for Turn Six, Hargrove abruptly veered to the inside, hoping to take his teammate by surprise, but succeeded only in tagging the unfortunate Alberico's rear wheel and sending him spinning into the wall.
During the ensuring full-course caution the heavens opened – but only on a small section of the track, in Turns Six and Seven. When the green flags waved again with six laps completed, Pigot and Kaiser continued to lead the way. Hargrove quickly moved from fifth to third, only to be assessed a drive-through penalty for causing the earlier incident.
With rain soon beginning to fall again more heavily, the Canadian dropped far back down the order in serving his penalty, then followed the example of several other drivers by stopping in the pits next time around for a change to wet weather Cooper tires. At almost the same time, local driver Clark Toppe's Pro Mazda debut came to an abrupt end when his JDC MotorSports car ground to a halt out on the circuit and the caution flags flew one more time.
By now everyone except the first two had stopped to change tires. Kaiser made his stop under caution after 11 laps, leaving only Pigot on dry weather tires – on a soaking wet track. As the field was unleashed again at the end of Lap 12, Pigot finally ducked into the pits, leaving Team Pelfrey's Dalton Kellett to lead the way at the restart. Grist ran second, followed by Costa, who then made a move for second almost immediately.
Once again the race ran green for only a brief period before Ryan Booth's JDC car also stopped on track bringing another caution.
The race went green again with around eight minutes remaining, with Kellett leading Costa, Grist and the fast recovering Hargrove. By the end of that lap, Hargrove had somehow fought his way into the lead ahead of Kellett. The two Canadians exchanged places another couple of times over the final few laps before Hargrove took the win with 22 laps in the books. A mistake by Kellett at Turn Seven on lap 21 allowed Costa to move into second. Kellett held on for third before capping an extraordinary race by crashing heavily in Turn One mere moments after taking the checkered flag.
Argentina's Julia Ballario claimed her best-ever finish, fourth for Juncos Racing, earning the Quarter Master Hard Charger award while teammate Pigot fought his way back to ninth by the finish.
Jeff Harrison of Grapevine, Texas, took Expert Class honors for drivers over 30 in the #14 Willbros/Grubbs HP entry for World Speed Motorsports.
Kellett claimed the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award for his pass of Hargrove with two laps to go on the inside of Turn 10. Additional contingency awards included the PFC Award and customized Race Energy charger – the official battery of the ladder series – to the winning team, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and the Staubli Award to Costa.
Having entered the weekend three points behind series leader Pigot, Hargrove now holds a 13-point advantage, 207-194. Today's result has also given Cape Motorsports the lead in the team standings by two points (223-221) over Juncos Racing.
The standing start for tomorrow's ninth round, once again in support of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Verizon IndyCar Series event, will take place at 1:00 p.m CT.