HOUSTON -- Gil de Ferran took control of the CART championship chase Sunday with an overpowering victory.
The driver known as ''The Professor'' because of the way he studies and analyzes every situation in racing, led all 100 laps in winning the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston.
''As we get to the end of the year, every race has a little bit of extra importance and I was very aware of that coming into the weekend,'' said de Ferran, who swept the maximum 22 points in Houston -- one for the pole, 20 for the win and one for leading the most laps.
''I knew if we had a good race that would put us in a very good position for the rest of the year, and it was one of those perfect weekends, I guess.''
The victory moved the defending series champion from a six-point deficit heading into the weekend to a 10-point lead with three races and a maximum of 66 points remaining.
The Marlboro Team Penske driver averaged 79.521 mph in his seventh career win.
Only 17 of the 26 cars that started the race on the tight 1.527-mile, 10-turn downtown street circuit were running at the end, but de Ferran was virtually flawless as he drove to his second straight victory after ending a yearlong victory drought two weeks ago in England.
Dario Franchitti wasn't even within sight of the leader's Honda-powered Reynard as he wound up second, 3.430 seconds behind. Memo Gidley, who started 23rd, used a perfect fuel strategy to finish third.
Rookie Tora Takagi was fourth, followed by Helio Castroneves, who vaulted past Michael Andretti into third in the title chase. Castroneves now trails de Ferran, his Penske teammate, by 30 points.
Andretti, who hit one wall and spun out a second time, failed to finish and wound up out of the points in 21st.
''It was a very smooth day for us,'' de Ferran said. ''It wasn't easy, though.
''When Dario was behind me in the middle part of the race, the pace was very fast. I was driving ten-tenths. It was a very hard race.''
The Brazilian driver added, ''This certainly puts us in good shape in the championship, but we can't take anything for granted. Kenny and Helio are both very tough. We just have to go to Laguna next week and do our job.''
The CART series moves on to Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif., next Sunday.
Brack, who has led the points most of the season, started third but slipped back early and was never a contender. Obviously frustrated, he said, ''The car was really loose in the first stint and that really hurt. We just couldn't keep our track position.
''We're behind now and that's not good, but we're going to keep fighting for the championship. We're already working hard to make some changes and be ready for Laguna Seca next week.''
Although he pushed de Ferran in the middle portion of the race, Franchitti -- fifth in the standings but 58 points off the lead -- was not able to mount a late run at the leader.
Following the final pit stops by the leaders under the fourth and final caution flag of the day on lap 80, Franchitti was third, behind Alex Tagliani. He wasn't able to regain second until Tagliani, racing on worn tires, slid into a concrete barrier on lap 94.
''By the time Tag went into the wall, I was too far behind,'' Franchitti said. ''I wasn't going to catch Gil.''
There were a number of spins and collisions during the race, but no big crashes and no injuries.
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