Carlos Munoz combined near-perfect driving in challenging, constantly changing conditions with bold pit strategy from his Andretti Autosport team to score his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory and lead a 1-2 Honda finish Saturday on the temporary Belle Isle street circuit in the first of two races this weekend in Detroit, Michigan.
Starting deep in the field, 20th, Munoz gained five positions and avoided trouble during the early, wet stages of the scheduled two-hour contest. As the track dried out mid-race, Munoz moved into the lead, then consolidated his advantage as he remained out on track in a light rain, when many competitors pitted for wet weather tires. Building a massive, 30-second lead, he was then able to pit for rain tires on Lap 42 and retain his advantage when he returned to the track as the rain intensified. Lightning in the area forced race officials to halt the race after 47 laps of a scheduled 70, with Munoz leading Andretti by more than 30 seconds.
After being the first to change to dry weather “slick” tires on Lap Nine, Andretti employed a similar strategy to finish second after leading a race-high 23 laps, his run marred by only an inadvertent brief activation of the pit-lane speed limiter on Lap 33, turning the lead over to Munoz, and making his final pit stop two laps sooner than the winner.
A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato dominated the early, wet laps, moving into the lead on the fourth lap and leading 12 laps prior to the first round of pit stops. But contact with Josef Newgarden on Lap 18 resulted in damage to Sato’s front wing and the resulting pit stop dropped him out of contention for the victory. Teammate Jack Hawksworth, running a split strategy from Sato, moved into the lead pack after the first round of pit stops and capitalized on that advantage for finish seventh for Honda.
Carlos Munoz (#26 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 20th, finished 1st, 1st career Indy car victory: “It wasn’t the way I wanted to win. I wanted to win it 100 per cent, running all the laps, but this is racing. My team did a great job in the strategy, and I think I also did a great job on the slick tires when the track was still a little bit wet. Really nice – my first victory in Indy car. I’m feeling really comfortable going into tomorrow’s race. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to fight for the win again.”
Marco Andretti (#26 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 9th, finished 2nd: “To get slicks on, the consensus on the timing stand was the opposite [of what I wanted], so I said ‘the guys better ready, because I’m coming in’. To me, it wasn’t really a gamble, I was ready to go to slicks. I thought the track was there and there was going to be a couple of laps of yellow before we went to green. It was drying quick; the concrete [pavement] dries very quick. That’s where it started. It was a blessing and a curse, because that’s where I lost the race, too, as Carlos was able to do a couple of laps [more] than me. It was a bummer, but a heck of an effort by the team.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “Carlos Munoz drove a perfect race, and Andretti Autosport made all the right strategy calls, in really challenging conditions. Carlos pulled out to a huge lead and truly earned his first Indy car victory. Both Carlos and Marco Andretti were extraordinary, staying out on slick tires longer than just about everyone else, and still pulling away from the field even as the rain returned. That made the difference today, and resulted in a one-two finish for Honda. In the early, wet laps, Takuma Sato also was outstanding until colliding with Josef Newgarden. A good day for Honda, and now we’ll do it all again tomorrow.”