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IndyCar: Houston Race 1 – Rookie Huertas wins, Colombia sweeps podium

Photo: Joe Skibinski

 

Race control decided about 30 min before green flag that Race 1 would start wet. The first three rows of the starting grid: Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Honda), Helio Castroneves (Team  Penske, Chevrolet), Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy), rookie Luca Filippi (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda), James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport, Honda), and Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Enterprise, Honda).

Season-points leader Will Power (Team Penske) failed to make it into the second round of qualifying and lined up P18, well behind teammate Castroneves, second in the standings. Filippi brought lots of standing-start experience to the race, his first IndyCar contest of 2014, via his experience in European open-wheel competition. Pagenaud’s P1 marked the first pole of his IndyCar career.

Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) remarked from his radio that the standing water was so bad he couldn’t see. Race control extended the warm up laps and announced that it would be a 1 hr 50 min timed race instead of the scheduled 90 laps.

When the race went green Rahal stalled on the line. Pagenaud led at the end of Lap 1, followed by Castroneves and Hinchcliffe. Pagenaud cut the chicane twice in the early laps and had to give back 1.2 sec. Sato passed Hinchcliffe and Castroneves to take second during Lap 3. Hinchcliffe moved to third.

Sato passed Pagenaud for the lead during Lap 5. At the end of Lap 6, Sato had extended his lead to 2.9123 sec. Hinchliffe passed Pagenaud for P2 during Lap 9. Pagenaud was suffering from an imbalance on the front brakes. 20 min into the race, Sato’s lead stood at 3.5481 sec ahead of Hinchcliffe with Pagenaud another 4.2 sec back. Sato was hung up behind Marco Andretti at the tail end of the lead lap, allowing Andretti Autosport teammate Hinchcliffe to begin closing ground.

Race control blue-flagged Andretti to allow Sato to pass during Lap 20. Andretti, however, had not yet yielded more than a lap later. Andretti was given a drive through penalty, but not before Sato’s lead was cut to less than 1 sec. Castroneves passed Pagenaud for P3 during Lap 26 after the Frenchman spun.

Sato and Hinchcliffe both pitted to put on slick tires during Lap 28. Hinchcliffe’s crew executed a very quick pit stop putting him ahead of Sato at pit exit. A full course yellow was issued moments later as Mike Conway (Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevy) collided with the tire wall on cold slicks.

With 1 hr 12 min left Hinchcliffe led Sato and Castroneves under the caution. Green flag competition resumed with 1:07 to go. Less than one lap later a lapped Mikhail Aleshin collided with Sato while trying to overtake him, bringing out another caution and removing both cars from the race. Race control said the incident would be investigated after the race.

At the 1:04 mark Hinchcliffe led Castroneves and Bourdais, Bourdais having made it past Justin Wilson right before the yellow came out. An attempt at restart with 57 min to go was called off after Hinchcliffe jumped the gun. Race control gave him a warning. Luca Filippi collided with the wall while the restart was happening, bringing out a new yellow.

Green flag competition resumed with 48 min left. Bourdais took second from Castroneves at 46:42. A few minutes later a collision between Dixon and Charlie Kimball after Dixon ricocheted off the wall brought out another caution. Pagenaud nicked Dixon as well, damaging his right front suspension.

Hinchcliffe pitted from the lead with just over 21 min to go.

With 16 min left Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing, Honda) led but hadn’t pitted in 37 laps. His teammate Carlos Huertas ran second, 25 laps after his last stop, with the possibility of making it to the end. Of those who had pitted  16-17 laps prior and could certainly make the finish, Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports) led Sebastian Saavedra (KV AFS Racing, Chevy), Tony Kanaan and Carlos Munoz.

Wilson pitted with 7:16 to go in the race, leaving rookie Heurtas in the lead for the first time in his career. With 5 min left Rahal had moved up to P4 after having stalled at the starting line. A full-course caution came out after Saavedra was pushed into the wall by Briscoe.

The green flag flew with time left for one lap. Heurtas had all five push-to-passes left, Montoya  0, and Kanaan 1. The start was waved off after Rahal ran into Kanaan from behind and the race finished under caution, Huertas taking his first victory. Montoya finished second and Rahal third. Munoz finished fourth but was elevated to third following a 30 sec post-race penalty on Rahal. Bourdais was the fifth car to cross the line and Briscoe the sixth, with Hinchcliffe given credit for P5 following a 30 sec penalty on Briscoe as well.

The podium of Huertas, Montoya, and Munoz was a Colombian sweep.

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