Simon Pagenaud and the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP car rocketed to the orbit of championship contention in Race 1 at the Grand Prix of Houston with a fourth place finish.

Pagenaud started and finished fourth to gain 20 points on championship leader Helio Castroneves and close within 50 points of the lead.

“It was a great day for us in the HP car,” Pagenaud said. “We’re still in it for the championship and the past four races have really heated this race for the title up. We’re really excited for tomorrow now.”

The 29-year-old Frenchman’s star is rising quickly in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but in order to capture career win No. 3 he and the HP team will focus on elevating their performance on restarts for Race 2.

“The HP car is flying when everything is up to temperature, so we know that we’re not far off,” Pagenaud said. “We just need to understand how to make the car work a little better on restarts because that’s where we struggled today. Once we figure that out we’ll have a great shot at the win tomorrow.”

Tristan Vautier, driving the No. 55 Angie’s List Schmidt Peterson Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, started from the 23rd starting position and was unable to make it through the meteor storm resulting from the IndyCar field’s second standing start attempt.

“We just got in trouble at the start when I had nowhere to go after Hinchcliffe’s car stalled on the standing start,” Vautier said. “I was trying to avoid him and hit the wall doing quite a bit of damage to our car.”

Vautier’s team brought his car back to the team transporter to repair significant damage to the right rear and enabled him to return to the track before the end of the race. The 23-year-old IZOD IndyCar Series rookie finished 22nd.

“My team worked so hard to get our car back out on the track and gain some data for tomorrow so that we have a shot at doing well in qualifications for Race 2 tomorrow morning,” Vautier said. “This has been a really tough day for us in the Angie’s List car but I know that the team will help put me in the best possible position for a second shot at things tomorrow.”

Scott Dixon won Race 1 at the Grand Prix of Houston and closed within eight points of championship leader Helio Castroneves. Simona De Silvestro scored the first podium of her IndyCar career with a second place finish, and Justin Wilson finished third.

Pagenaud and Vautier will take to the 1.638-mile circuit at 9:45 a.m. ET Sunday morning for Race 2 qualifying. Broadcast coverage of the race begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. For the latest trackside updates from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the Grand Prix of Houston, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.