Huertas wins first IndyCar race amidst Houston chaos
28 June 2014 – Carlos Huertas survived countless late-race cautions and changeable conditions to cap off an all-Colombian podium in the first of two races at the Grand Prix of Houston.
The Dale Coyne Racing rookie found himself at the front of the field with just a handful of laps remaining after Justin Wilson was forced to pit from the lead. Two consecutive cautions in what turned into a timed race meant that Huertas coasted across the line under caution to win his first ever IndyCar race ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz.
Heavy rains that swept through the Houston area after qualifying meant the race would officially start under wet conditions with the new wet compound brought to the race by Firestone. This also prompted officials to determine that the race would last one hour and 50 minutes instead of its scheduled number of laps.
The moisture would complicate an already-difficult standing start, executed almost perfectly by the field were it not for Graham Rahal stalling.
Rahal would play a part in securing the victory for Huertas after punting third-placed Tony Kanaan while running behind the Safety Car. Rahal ran squarely into the back of the Brazilian with just one lap remaining, knocking Kanaan out of the top 10 and earning Rahal a 30-second penalty that pushed him off the podium (but still ahead of Kanaan in the overall results).
Race control kept the caution out, and the former Formula Renault 3.5 series driver, who started P19 and had last pitted 39 laps before, had just enough fuel to make it to the chequered flag.
The race was a mix of wet and dry conditions, switching between the two a couple of times during what ended up being an 80-lap affair.
Former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato charged through the field early on to take the lead, which he promptly stretched to 4.5 seconds. He soon found himself stuck behind Marco Andretti, though, who had been spun by his team-mate and was fighting to stay on the lead lap. Being caught up meant that second-placed (and fellow Andretti Autosport driver) James Hinchcliffe could close in on Sato. In doing so, Andretti had been ignoring blue flags for several laps – which earned him a black flag drive-through penalty, but the damage to Sato's lead had already been done.
Hinchcliffe would jump the Japanese driver in the first round of pit-stops, but Sato's race would truly be unravelled at the halfway point. On a wet restart, the lapped Mikhail Aleshin made a run on the outside of the A.J. Foyt car, and Sato slowly drifted his way across half the width of the track before pushing Aleshin and himself into the fronstretch wall. Sato's strong run was over, but it appeared that he hurt his wrist in the crash – something that will be evaluated ahead of tomorrow's second race.
Just before the race resumed, Luca Filippi, who had been running among the leaders all weekend, pinballed off the final corner into the opposite wall, citing a lack of expected understeer as the cause of his misjudgment. Josef Newgarden had done the same thing a lap earlier.
A few laps later, Scott Dixon would also make a mistake that sent him careening into the wall. On the ensuing rebound, he collected Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud, damaging both of their cars (but not terminally).
Just 10 laps later, points leader Will Power, who started the race P18 and had not quite recovered by then, hit the tyre barrier to bring out another caution. This caution was too soon for the leaders to pit, sealing their decisions to try to make it to the end of the race 25 minutes later. This would prove to be the wrong move for Wilson, but it worked for the other six cars that had stayed out during the last round of pit-stops during the Dixon incident. This was the group that included the three Colombians, Kanaan and Rahal.
So on the day that the Colombian football team triumphed in the World Cup, three compatriots occupied the Houston podium – two rookies and a former series champion who is back in the sport for the first time in a decade.
Sunday's Race 2 at Houston begins at 2pm local time (GMT -5), with qualifying four hours prior