Category archive: Juan Pablo Montoya
HOUSTON -- The only predictable thing about the first race of the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend was A.J. Foyt swearing on live television.
I didn't check the Las Vegas odds on rookie Carlos Huertas claiming his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory before the race, but the 23-year-old Colombian surely went off at more than 100 to 1. Yet Huertas took the checkered flag first Saturday afternoon, leading his countryman and hero Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz across the line in a 1-2-3 finish for Colombia as rain played havoc with the usual IndyCar front-runners.
More than half the entries in the 23-car field were involved in some kind of contact on the wet track as what was supposed to be a 90-lap race was quickly changed to a timed race of 1 hour and 50 minutes. Dale Coyne Racing played the strategy perfectly, timing Huertas' final pit stop to perfection to give him track position and enough fuel to make the moving target of the finish.
Huertas eventually completed 80 laps for the win, stretching his final tank of fuel over 39 of those laps.
It almost ended up a DCR 1-2, because Huertas' teammate, Justin Wilson, led until he had to pit for a splash of fuel with less than five minutes remaining.
"Timed races are tricky," observed winning team owner Dale Coyne. "People sometimes forget how to run timed races, and we did it well.
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIndyCar Series rookie Carlos Huertas after his Houston win: "The team called it perfectly with the fuel, and it's a great day."
"The kid has been improving all year," he added. "We showed when we put a guy in front, he can stay in front."
Did they ever. Any one of a dozen drivers could honestly say he had a shot at the victory Saturday, but Huertas, making just his ninth Indy car start, was the man who triumphed.
He's a product of the European open-wheel ladder system, a former race winner in Formula 3 and Formula Renault 3.5 -- and now IndyCar, as surely the most unexpected victor in the series in at least 10 years.
"For sure, this was always possible," Huertas said in a postrace television interview. "The team did a great job with the strategy. These races are so long here, you always have a chance to win if you do the right things at the right time.
"Today was really tough; I was really struggling," he added. "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."
Montoya looked in position to score the first win of his Indy car comeback, but he didn't have the pace to beat his young countryman.
"I really thought I was only racing Tony [Kanaan] for the win," Montoya said. "There were a couple times I thought I could have passed Huertas, but I decided to save the car and not take chances. And here we are second and he took the win.
"I never thought he could make it to the end and I was only worried about protecting from behind," Montoya added. "They said, 'You better think about passing Huertas,' but by then, the tires were gone."
This race was crazy enough that championship leader Will Power lost just six points of his series lead despite missing the strategy and spinning out on his way to 14th place. His closest challenger, Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, finished ninth and is now 33 points back at the halfway point of the season.
Pole man Simon Pagenaud lost six laps to the leaders when he got swept into three-time series champion Scott Dixon's crash; early leader Takuma Sato was punted off by rookie Mikhail Aleshin; and Graham Rahal and Kanaan looked as though they would be in the fight for the win at the end after Wilson peeled off from the lead in the dying minutes.
But Ryan Briscoe nudged Sebastian Saavedra into a spin, and after a brief full-course caution to restart the KVSH Racing car, fourth-placed Rahal punted third-place runner Kanaan into the wall on the approach to the green flag for what would have been a one-lap sprint to the finish.
After Kanaan's crash, Rahal and Briscoe finished third and fifth on the track under caution, but were handed 30-second time penalties for avoidable contact, dropping them to 11th and 12th place, respectively.
Rahal had the fastest car on the track in the closing laps, but his error on the final restart proved costly.
"Everybody saw there was nobody quicker than us on that racetrack," Rahal said. "I think if it would have ended under green, I would have won that race for sure, and I feel confident saying that. I was getting by a lot of those guys in a hurry. Shoulda, coulda, woulda -- I made a mistake."
Kanaan looked to be on the verge of tears after missing out on a podium finish or a potential victory.
"I gotta be professional, and I'm representing a team and sponsors so I can't do what I really want to do," he said. "What a shame. We fought all the way, all day long. To be taken out like that is stupid. He came to apologize but that still doesn't take the frustration out of me."
The good news for Kanaan and all the other drivers thinking that Saturday's race was one that got away from them: They get to do the same thing all over again on Sunday afternoon.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Will Power didn't win the Firestone Indy 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
But he sure had fun trying.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor SpeedwayWill Power led the most laps Saturday night, but couldn't catch Ed Carpenter at the end.
The Team Penske driver dominated the first half of the race and led nearly two-thirds of the 248-lap contest, but Power lost the lead to Ed Carpenter on the 182nd lap, then made the costly error of speeding in the pits as he entered for his final stop.
A late caution flag gave Power the opportunity to pit for fresh tires, and he used them to carve from sixth to second over the course of the last couple laps. But he was unable to catch owner/driver Carpenter, who scored the third Verizon IndyCar Series race win of his career and the second for his team this year to go along with Mike Conway's victory at Long Beach.
For Power, there was no shame in finishing second to Carpenter, the only driver in the IndyCar Series who came up through a traditional oval racing path of midgets and sprint cars.
Power had started to cut into Carpenter's two-second lead in traffic prior to both drivers making their final stop on Lap 213. That's when Power got popped, the subsequent drive-through penalty dropping him to sixth place, nearly a lap down.
The break that nearly won him the race came on Lap 241, when Takuma Sato suffered the third Honda engine failure of the race.
"Obviously, the penalty hurt, but I was trying to close the gap to Ed so I could try to go for the win," the championship leader said. "The team made a great call to get tires at the end.
"I had so much fun," he added. "That was even more fun than Fontana [where Power won the 2013 IndyCar season finale] -- I just didn't get the bloody win."
That honor went to Carpenter, who simply got stronger and stronger as the race progressed.
"I knew we had a good car," Carpenter said. "We had a good test here back a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of months ago. Whenever it was. I just felt like we left some on the table in qualifying, but it made me extra motivated for tonight.
"We had one bad stint, but the guys just made great adjustments all night," he continued. "The Fuzzy's car was hooked up, and I think we were for sure the car to beat at the end."
Carpenter admitted that the final yellow flag caused him some concern. "I was a little worried," he said. "I knew guys were going to come in. We talked about what we would do in that situation, and we were kind of undecided, but Tim [team manager Broyles] and the boys made the right call.
"Awesome night," he concluded. "I have loved this racetrack for a long time and had a lot of bad luck here. I've really always wanted to win here, so I'm super excited."
Juan Pablo Montoya had the best race of his return to Indy cars in taking third place. The Colombian made an early, out-of-sequence pit stop when Marco Andretti brought out the first of three cautions on the night with a blown engine on just the fifth lap. Montoya was often the fastest car on the track, but he lost a lot of ground on the next-to-last stint.
However, he had moved back into second place before the final yellow. Montoya was bitterly unhappy after the race, claiming Carpenter jumped the last restart for the green-white-checkered finish.
"When you let people jump starts and you let them get away with it, it's impossible," Montoya fumed. "The first thing he did was slow down, which you're not supposed to, and then he went. It was like 200 yards before we're supposed to go.
"I was sure they were going to make a call, and they didn't," added Montoya. "So I was kind of disappointed, and I'm going to go talk to IndyCar now and see what they say."
This year's Texas race was closer to the 2012 contest than last year's strung-out affair, the addition of approximately 300 extra pounds of downforce making the cars able to run closer together but still a handful for the drivers.
"A bit of a struggle. Really loose all night," fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon said.
"I'm proud that we actually held the car on the track instead of putting it in the fence."