What a Saturday it was for Columbia. Right as Columbia beat Uruguay 2-0 to advance to the countries first ever World Cup Quarterfinals the country also swept the Verizon IndyCar Series podium at Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers. It was a fuel gamble by Dale Coyne Racing and rookie Carlos Huertas that prevailed in a wild race.
Huertas became the first rookie to win an IndyCar Series race since the 2008 season when Graham Rahal went to victory lane. Incidentally it was Rahal who helped seal Huertas' first career win when he negated what would have been a one lap dash to the finish when he jumped the restart and spun third place runner Tony Kanaan. The race then ended under caution.
Columbia's Juan Pablo Montoya finished second and after Rahal was given a 30 second penalty Columbian Carlos Munoz moved up to third to make it a clean sweep for Columbia on the Houston podium at the NRG Park Stadium Circuit.
Originally Race 1 of the doubleheader weekend was supposed to be a 90-lap race but after qualifying heavy rain fell and the start of the race was delayed about 15-minutes and would start on rain tires. Officials made the race a 1 hour and 50 minute timed race. Simon Pagenaud was on pole for the standing start and got a great one. So did Takuma Sato from row three as he shot to the middle and banged into both James Hinchcliffe and Luca Filippi.
Graham Rahal's car did not get off the grid as he stalled but crews got his car fired before having to throw a full course caution.
It only took six minutes for Sato to blaze his way to the lead as he made a few daring passes on the wet track including the one for the lead where he almost lost control and made very slight contact with Pagenaud on the way by.
With 1 hour and 40 minutes left Carlos Munoz made contact with and spun Marco Andretti. Andretti had to pit to change a flat tire and Munoz had to serve a penalty for the contact. Andretti exited the pits just ahead of the leader Sato. With 1 hour and 21 minutes left Andretti was black flagged for not moving over for the leader Sato as Andretti's Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe closed on Sato's lead.
With 1 hour and 20 minutes left a dry line was beginning to form and Charlie Kimball was the first driver to pit to get off the rain tires and onto the slicks. Simon Pagenaud was running third with 1 hour and 18 minutes left when he spun out and dropped to fourth. Pagenaud was fighting issues with his breaks since the start of the race. Two minutes later Mikhail Aleshin got loose on a wet patch and nosed into the wall but continued to pit road. Also at that time the two leaders pitted to change off the rain tires and Hinchcliffe's crew got him out just ahead of Sato.
The first caution flew with 1 hour and 14 minutes left in the race when Mike Conway hit a tire barrier after losing control. He would finish 17th of the 23 cars.
For the restart with 1 hour and 7 minutes left Hinchcliffe led ahead of Sato, Helio Castroneves, Justin Wilson, and Sebastien Bourdais in the top five. The lap car of Aleshin was behind Sato for the rolling restart and ended up being quicker then Sato. Aleshin looked to make a pass but Sato moved over and the two made contact and both hit the wall ending their races and brought out the second caution with 1 hour and 6 minutes left. Sato finished 22nd and Aleshin 23rd. Also on the restart Josef Newgarden made heavy contact into the wall. His crew tried to repair the car but he would end up retiring and finished 20th.
The next restart was waved off when Hinchcliffe jumped the flag but Luca Filippi, who was seventh, made contact with the inside wall in Turn 10 and then hit the outside and inside walls on the front stretch hard. That ended his race and he finished 21st.
The race would restart with 48 minutes left and Hinchcliffe held the lead. With 46 minutes left Sebastien Bourdais passed Castroneves for second. Points leader Will Power tagged the wall with 43 minutes left but would continue.
With 42 minutes left the third caution flew when Scott Dixon got off line and hit the wall in Turn 9 hard. He came back across the track and collected Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball. Pagenaud finished 16th with Kimball in 18th, and Dixon 19th.
Under the caution some light rain started to fall but it would not be enough to make the lead cars come in and put rain tires on. Other drivers did pit though which put them in a possible fuel window to the finish.
The race would restart with 32 minutes left and Hinchcliffe remained in the lead. With 27 minutes left Will Power spun and made light contact into the tire barrier and stalled to bring out the fourth caution. He would lose a lap and ended up finishing in 14th.
The lead cars pitted under the caution but eight drivers stayed out. Justin Wilson moved to the lead for Dale Coyne Racing but would need a lot of caution laps the rest of the way to make the finish. His teammate Carlos Huertas moved to second and would need less caution laps than Wilson to make the finish. Tony Kanaan was third, Juan Pablo Montoya fourth, Sebastian Saavedra fifth, Carlos Munoz sixth, Graham Rahal seventh, and Ryan Briscoe eighth. Hinchcliffe was the first car off pit road and restarted ninth with Sebastien Bourdais tenth with 20 minutes left.
With 17 minutes left Montoya passed Kanaan for third place as the racing in the top 10 was nose to tail. Wilson ended up pitting under green with 7 minutes and 30 seconds left which gave the lead over to Carlos Huertas.
Graham Rahal was on the charge and with 5 minutes and 30 seconds left he moved into fourth past Munoz. Then with 4 minutes left Ryan Briscoe spun Sebastian Saavedra to bring out the fifth caution. At the end of the race Briscoe was sixth but was penalized 30 seconds for the contact and finished 12th. Saavedra ended up in 15th.
The caution was good for Huertas as he could save fuel but it was short enough that the race was going to restart with about 20 second left on the clock so he would have to survive a final lap to win his first career IndyCar Series race. That scenario did not play out as Graham Rahal tried to anticipate the restart and ended up running into Tony Kanaan's car coming out of Turn 9 and spun him around. INDYCAR officials did not throw the green and Huertas came around one more lap under caution to win.
After Rahal was penalized Huertas was joined on the podium by fellow Columbian countrymen Montoya and Munoz.
Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth, James Hinchcliffe fifth, Jack Hawksworth sixth, Ryan Hunter-Reay seventh, Marco Andretti eighth, Helio Castroneves ninth, and Justin Wilson tenth. Graham Rahal ended up 11th with Ryan Briscoe 12th and Tony Kanaan 13th.
Heading into Race 2 tomorrow Will Power still leads the points. He is 33 ahead of Helio Castroneves. Ryan Hunter-Reay is 50 points back in third. Simon Pagenaud is fourth, Juan Pablo Montoya fifth, Carlos Munoz sixth, Marco Andretti seventh, Scott Dixon eighth, James Hinchcliffe ninth, and Sebastien Bourdais tenth.
Qualifying for Race 2 will take place Sunday morning at 10 a.m. ET with the race at 3 p.m. ET again on NBCSN.Tags: Carlos Huertas, Carlos Munoz, Dale Coyne Racing, Graham Rahal, IndyCar Series, Jack Hawksworth, James Hinchcliffe, Juan Pablo Montoya, Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, Motorsports, NRG Park Stadium Circuit, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais