• Fuel strategy pays off for Dale Coyne Racing driver
• Honda drivers claim seven of top 10 positions
• Pagenaud qualifies on pole for Honda
Honda-powered rookie Carlos Huertas won Saturday’s opening race of the Grand Prix of Houston Presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers, “double header” Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend, taking his Dale Coyne Racing machine to victory in an 80-lap event that featured constantly changing weather conditions.
Today’s race was marked by a brief, heavy rain shower less than half an hour before the scheduled start, leading officials to declare the event a “wet race”, requiring teams to start on rain tires and for the race to become a one hour, 50-minute timed event. The wet/dry conditions also contributed to a total of six caution flags and multiple pit stop strategies through the field.
The early laps were dominated by Detroit pole qualifier Takuma Sato, driving for hometown legend A.J. Foyt Racing. But Sato’s run ended after 32 laps when he tangled with the lapped car of Mikhail Aleshin. James Hinchcliffe then took over at the front, as Honda-powered drivers led all 80 laps of today’s race. Pole qualifier Simon Pagenaud also led the first four laps of today’s race, until brake problems and a long pit stop to repair suspension damage from contact dropped him to a 16th-place result.
A decision by Huertas’ Dale Coyne Racing team to make an early final pit stop proved decisive, as Huertas first followed teammate Justin Wilson for 15 laps, then assumed a lead he would not relinquish when Wilson made his final stop on Lap 73. The victory is the fourth of the season for Honda, and the first for Huertas in his rookie season of IndyCar competition.
Following Huertas to the checkers were fellow Columbians Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz as Honda-powered drivers – four of them rookies – claimed seven of the top-10 finishing positions.
In addition to Huertas and Munoz, James Hinchcliffe led 32 laps en route to a fifth-place finish in his Andretti Autosport Honda, with Honda drivers Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finishing sixth through eighth, respectively. Wilson’s late-race pit stop ended his chances of victory today, but the veteran still rounded out the top 10 finishers.
Janice Charlene Vaughn, from Reelsville, Indiana, led the field prior to today’s race start in the two-seat Honda Indy car driven by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk.
Carlos Huertas (#18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda) Houston Race 1 winner: “For sure, it is always possible to win, but today was really tough. I had no pace at all during the first half of the race, but our car became much better as the race continued. The team did a great job, and these races are so long that you always have a chance to win if you do the right thing at the right time. We made all the right calls today, and this is a great victory both for my team and myself.”
Tom Reichenbach (Senior Manager, Chief Engineer, Technical Division) on today’s race win: “Whenever you have a rain race, it’s crazy. And today the conditions were tough for everyone. You just have to be on top of it, and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities whenever they come. Dale Coyne Racing made the right calls, had their drivers in the right place at the right time and it worked out in a victory. Congratulations to Carlos [Huertas] and the team, and to everyone at HPD. Now let’s go out and get another win tomorrow.”