At 4:50 p.m. CT, Columbian Carlos Huertas completed a monumental day in sports for his native country.
The 23-year-old Verizon IndyCar Series rookie won Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers under caution for his first victory. Juan Pablo Montoya finished second and rookie Carlos Munoz placed third for the podium sweep, and earlier in the day Colombia won its FIFA World Cup knockout match.
Huertas' previous best finish was eighth in the opening round of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit a month ago. He is the seventh different winner in nine races. Marco Andretti in 2006 at Sonoma Raceway was the last driver to win in his first season.
"The kid has been getting better all year and he showed a lot today," said team owner Dale Coyne, who picked up his first victory since June 2013 at Belle Isle with driver Mike Conway. "He's been very steady and fast, and he performs. We used a good strategy to get him to the front, and when he got there he knew what to do."
Huertas, who led the final seven laps (his first of the season) after his teammate Justin Wilson had to pit for fuel, started 19th in the race that was scheduled for 90 laps but was ruled a timed race (1 hour, 50 minutes) because of rain that delayed the standing start. A one-lap shootout on a restart was set up following a caution on Lap 78, but the car of Graham Rahal clipped the rear of Tony Kanaan's Target Chip Ganassi Racing car heading to the restart zone and a "no start" call came from Race Control.
"The races are so long, you always have a chance to win if you do the right things at the right time," said Huertas, who went a field-high 39 laps on one set of Firestone tires and 18.5 gallons of E85 fuel to close out the 80 laps. "Today was really tough. I was really struggling. I had no pace in the first half of the race. But I reminded myself just to stay calm and do what you have to do and I did that.
"The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
Sebastien Bourdais, who won on the temporary street circuit in 2006 and '07, placed a season-best fourth and James Hinchcliffe, who led 32 laps early, earned his second top-five finish of the season. Rookie Jack Hawksworth, whose No. 98 car made contact in practice June 27 and started 21st, earned a season-best sixth place.
Championship leader Will Power, who started 18th in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, slid into the Turn 9 tires on Lap 58 to bring out the caution flag. He finished 14th and, combined with teammate Helio Castroneves' ninth place, takes a 33-point lead in the team championship into Race 2 on June 29.
Montoya, who is competing in his first Indy car season since 2000, posted his best finish of the season and follows a third place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on June 7. Munoz, who started 23rd, earned his third career podium and fourth top-five finish (in 12 races).
"We were forced to do something different (fuel strategy) and it paid off," said Montoya, who also won in his first Indy car season (1999). "We did a timed race and with 35 minutes to go, I'm counting laps and I'm thinking, 'We can make it. Why are they not stopping?' Our Verizon Chevy was very good. I thought we had a chance to win, but at the end the tires went off."
CARLOS HUERTAS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "It was a really long race and I really struggled on the wet. I had no pace, so I decided to stay very calm, and normally I'm calm but today I had to stay more calm because people were passing me, and I just didn't have any grip. Then when it started drying up, I thought maybe we had a chance, and then I kept asking how many laps to the end of the race because I thought we could make it on the fuel. Funny enough, before the race on the strategy meeting, I asked the team if it was possible to do the race with just one stop, and they started laughing, and they said, if you have a pace of 80 seconds, then for sure, but I wouldn't recommend it. But yeah, it was a great day. I was worried when Justin wasn't pitting because I think he was trying to make it to the end, but then they realized they couldn't make it. I'm very happy I won. In every series I've won at least once, so it's great. And winning in a professional series like this one is incredible."
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Honda): "I was gaining Takuma (Sato) from the outside and he closed the inside and I was thinking he was going to leave me some space on the outside, but then he closed the inside and he started to close the outside as well. I had nowhere to go at this point. So unfortunately, there's nothing we could do. Basically, it all started when Mike Conway ran into my back and that's why I was in the back of the field. I was going to be up there, if not for this first accident.
I was trying to gain my lap and I was actually a bit surprised. I was faster than Takuma at this point and I wasn't even a full lap down so I just needed to get my lap. It was just a strange situation because he was in the inside then I took the outside lane and then he closed the outside as well. It's just frustrating results for our team because we had a good car and we were doing well. Everything was going well until the moment Mike Conway ran into my back when this all started."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet): "A very solid day for the KVSH Racing Mistic machine and the whole group. We did everything right and everything we had to do. We just got hurt by the yellows. The first yellow, when we switch to slick tires, a lot of things didn't quite work out, but we seemed to come out of it strong, P2 behind Hinchcliffe. Unfortunately, another yellow came out and that really did it because we were good to go on fuel with one more stop and some of the other guys behind us stopped on an earlier yellow. But since it was a timed race, every time there was a yellow the race got shorter and shorter and they were not using as much fuel. So, a few of them stayed in front of us, but we salvaged a fourth which was a very solid result. Of course I am disappointed in a way because I think we could have finished higher, but I am pretty happy for the Mistic crew."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "The track was drying and we decided to pit (on lap 26) and put on the red Firestones slicks. I wanted to make some time but I locked up the tires in turn 3. It was still a little wet on the outside. And I got the car into the tire barrier. The right front wing was wrecked and the car stalled. The impact bent the steering column a bit and it twisted my left thumb pretty well too. It is hurting but nothing serious. It will be sore tomorrow. I just feel badly for the ECR/Fuzzy's team because the way the race finished up. We could have been in the mix at the end. We need to get ready for Sunday's race now."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "That was kind of a tough day. We kept at it and were leading there for a while but we needed one more caution to make it to the end and it didn't come. That is just the way it goes. We will keep working on it and try to get into that position tomorrow. I am very pleased for the team and it is great for Carlos to get his first IndyCar win and I think that was fantastic. I am happy for everyone and hopefully we can have a decent shot at it tomorrow."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Nobody wanted to finish like this - big disappointment in the end. I got off the line really well so I overtook two cars but then I was sandwiched between two cars so I had to back off. But the car was very good which allowed me to overtake and eventually get the lead. It was really fun, everything was under control. Marco came out of the pit in front of me on cold tires. I was much faster and he was holding me up. He got the blue flag for I don't know how many laps and he just ignored it. I lost a lot of time and finally the league blackflagged him, but by then the damage was done. Hinchcliffe was right behind me and we had to both pit and unfortunately we lost one place to him so now we are second. On that restart, Aleshin was behind but he was a lap down so I concentrated on Hinchcliffe. Going into the long sweep on turn five, the only place to overtake was on the inside and that was a wet line too so I stayed on the dry line and he just came in too deep on the outside. We tangled. What was he going to achieve? You can't overtake on the outside on that hairpin. The team did a great job and we had a great car in the race. The conditions were changing but we made the right decisions and I was really happy to be in the car. It's a shame. [Hand?] It's sore but we'll be fine for tomorrow."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 National Guard Honda): "Obviously I told Tony (Kanaan) I was sorry. It was my mistake and I feel bad for Tony. With the stack up on the restart, I was trying to keep the tires as dry as I could and I was to the left and when it stacked up I just didn't see it at all and I got into the back of him. Obviously this sort of thing has happened about 100 times this year but it doesn't make it right. I said last night that I thought this National Guard car could win today. We didn't qualify as well as we thought we could have but everybody saw how quick we were on the race track. The National Guard car was phenomenal. We have to go back out there tomorrow and try to qualify a little better and run up front. I think if the race ended under green I would have won this race for sure. And I feel confident saying that because I was moving by those guys in a hurry. Should'a, could'a, would'a. I made a mistake and I don't even know where we finished."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Hard day today if we could have hung in there a little longer we could have been in good shape. I made a mistake there and I feel bad for the Verizon Chevy boys after I went into the wall. That's racing. We'll try it again tomorrow and go for better result."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Yes, I had a good jump (on the restart) there. It is one of those deals; it's racing. That's what happens. I had a shot once at passing. It was really close. I thought he wasn't going to make it on gas, but congratulations to Carlos (Huertas). I think my Verizon Chevy was unbelievable today. This race, especially when it rains, is all about keeping it off the wall and running smart all day, and we did that. I liked passing Tony (Kanaan), I really enjoyed that. I'm starting to get there, and I'm pretty happy."
[On his race:] "We were running pretty good. We were running seventh or something, and we came in and put black tires on it, and that really hurt us. But in a way, it forced us to do something different, and it paid off. I am amazed; we did a timed race, and with 35 minutes to go and I am counting 30 laps - 'We can make it at this pace - we can make it. Why are they not stopping.' I was surprised anybody pitted...then I was like oh, thank you."
[What did you say to Carlos (Huertas)?] "I said congratulations. He is a good kid. He did a good job today. He did what he had to do. Our Verizon Chevy was really good today, I thought we had a chance to win, but at the end, the tires went off. I do tease him a lot, trying to help him. I am always telling him to close the neck of his suit so he looked good."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske Chevrolet): "Obviously we were looking for a better day today after qualifying on the front row with the Pennzoil Chevrolet. With Brazil winning their World Cup match on penalty kicks I was really feeling good about the day. The rain, I think, through all of us for a bit of a loop. It was very wet to start and there were some corners that never dried. We just weren't prepared for that. But we know we have a fast car in dry conditions. Hopefully we will qualify well again tomorrow and have a better ending."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "Kind of the story of our year. Not unlike Detroit, we picked a strategy that we had to pick running out front like that. There's no way you could predict this many yellows with the guys at the end running into each other. I just feel so bad for the United Fiber & Data guys, they were killer in the pits. The car was good in the rain, we were right on Sato's gearbox coming into the pits and got ahead of him during the stops - we were controlling the race. All those restarts we were pulling away and it looked like it was ours to lose and then all of a sudden we come out from that last stop... the guys that took a risk, at first I honestly didn't think they had a chance but the yellows that subsequently happened, they were able to do it. Saving grace though is we have a quick car, we have a chance to try again tomorrow and hopefully, hopefully, finally, one day, maybe the yellows will go our way."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Snapple Honda): "We had to come back from a disaster and just hang in there. We were ahead of Carlos and then we should have pitted and instead we stayed out. If we would have went on Carlos's strategy, I think we would have finished third. We'll go through everything tonight and come back ready tomorrow."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Honda): "This time was our day of luck; in Detroit we were not lucky with strategy. It seems like you have to start in the back to have the right race. Some guys that finish in the front, they started in the back. Another good strategy during the race even after I had to serve a drive-through penalty and our front wing broke... I finished third, and what can I say, it's good points for the championship. Now we have to focus on tomorrow, and I have to work to improve the qualifying for tomorrow's race."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Strike/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "It's a shame to have a day like today. A bit of a mixed day for everyone it looked like with the crazy and changing conditions. I made a mistake coming into the restart. I clipped a puddle on the outside coming into Turn 10 and spun the rear and that put me on the left side of the Turn 10 wall and then sent me to the outside of the Turn 10 wall. I clipped the rear and ended up breaking the tow link. The guys worked really hard and got it patched up as best as they could, but there was some further damage inside and it showed its head about 10 laps later. We weren't able to finish but we definitely had a strong car today."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda):"Unfortunately it just came down to strategy. We made a lot of headway with the DHL car there in the beginning under green. It came down to when you pit, when's the right time. That's how the podium (finishers) got where they are. It was a weird day, kind of one of those street-course anomalies. We got a good balance read at the end of the day, so we'll use that and move on to race two tomorrow."
LUCA FILIPPI, (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda): "We never ran on the wet tires so it was a bit tough at the beginning then everything went well after we settled in. In the middle we were struggling a little with the worn out wet tires but still we were fighting for some positions. I think the car was very strong with slicks on and I wanted to try to overtake Simon. I was on the overtake button and wanted to take the last corner as fast as possible and I even anticipated the understeer that was coming from the cold tires but I made a misjudgment and I hit the inside wall. It's a shame because everything went well to that point and I think the car was strong in the conditions."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Chevrolet): "It was a crazy race. I am very sad because the result does not show what an amazing car we had. We were very strong in the wet, making a lot of passes when the conditions were at their worst. With a great strategy and fantastic pit stops by the Automatic Fire Sprinklers - KV AFS Racing crew we were able to get up front. Unfortunately at the end I got taken out by Ryan Briscoe while looking to have a top-five or better finish. I'm disappointed, we came from so far back in the field and worked so hard that we deserve a lot better. We have a good car and just need to re-group for tomorrow. Big congratulations on the Colombian 1, 2, 3 finish today and of course in the World Cup with Colombia winning their game, which is huge for my country...I wish I could be there!"