FIRST IMPRESSIONS: 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, race 1

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on June 28, 2014 6:40 pm
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We’re halfway done the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Here are the first impressions of the More Front Wing crew on race 1 of the weekend.

STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Will Power was uncompetitive, Scott Dixon made a critical mistake, and Carlos Huertas won his first IndyCar race in a Dale Coyne Racing car.

That’s funny — I don’t remember flying here from Kansas, but it seems I must be in Oz.

The rain and the tight street course sure did keep things interesting throughout with the unfortunate side effect of a lot of carnage. You’ve got to feel for the teams — a bunch of them are going to be up late making repairs tonight.

And there was plenty of controversy as well. I’ll take my shot at two of the biggest ones.

On the penalty to Andretti for not yielding to Sato per the blue flags, I seem to be more ambivalent than most people. On one hand, I agree that in a situation where Andretti has the pace of the leader that he has to be allowed to fight for his lap. But that’s not what he was doing at that moment. He was making life difficult for Sato to let Hinchcliffe catch up, and that shouldn’t be okay. It’s totally unfair to the smaller teams to permit that as a precedent.

A rule does exist that dictates that a penalty must be called for ignoring blue flags, so this discussion really becomes about whether that rule should exist in the first place. What would make me happiest would be to have Race Control use their discretion — I know, I usually hate that word too, but hear me out — to only throw blue flags on a driver who is either clearly not in a position to race the leader for his lap (i.e., damage) and/or is deliberately getting in his way for some other gain. The blue flag is the only portion of this situation that can be subjective, and so my hope is that this logic matches Race Control’s, in which case I can support their decision.

Now, on Sato and his incident with Aleshin, I was totally on Aleshin’s side until I learned that he was a lap down from Sato at the time of the incident. In that case, he really doesn’t have a right to race Sato that hard unless he’s really darned sure he’s going to pull the move off. In that situation — and that situation alone — I can see where Sato has an argument for not seeing him or expecting him to be where he was because Aleshin really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. It’s a racing incident at best, but I wouldn’t disagree with a penalty being assessed on Aleshin in this situation.

And the insanity ends with perhaps the biggest underdog in the series — the man we knew as TBA until just before St. Pete — Carlos Huertas winning his first Verizon IndyCar Series race for Dale Coyne Racing. Congratulations to him, Montoya, and Munoz for becoming the first all-Colombian podium in motor racing history. Let’s hope Colombia isn’t too distracted by their winning World Cup soccer team to pay them the attention they deserve before a new race winner is crowned tomorrow.

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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

So a race that seemed to take forever to get going got very exciting during the last 25 minutes. And then it ended with a complete dud.

While rain usually makes the racing particularly exciting, the first 10 to 15 laps of this race seemed very tame because the excessive water seemed to make all the drivers extremely cautious. All but Takuma Sato, that is. The speedy Japanese driver once again proved to be worth the price of admission when he went straight to the lead after starting in 6th position.

Unfortunately, Sato was his own worst enemy and was taken out when a mid-race incident with Mikhail Aleshin (running a lap down) left him on the sidelines.

After a flurry of accidents through the mid portion of the race, the last 25 minutes were fantastic to watch with Justin Wilson and Carlos Huertas trying to save enough fuel to finish and a stellar battle for positions 3 through 8 between Montoya, Kanaan, Rahal, Munoz, and Bourdais. Sadly, what could have been an incredible finish fizzled when Ryan Briscoe and Sebastian Saavedra made late contact bringing out the full course caution. The race should have had one final green flag lap, but mind games of starting and slowing at the front of the field caused Graham Rahal to punt Tony Kanaan and the race finished under yellow.

Regardless of how the race finished, congratulations are well deserved by first time winner Carlos Huertas. He drove an exceptional race and did exactly what he needed to do to find victory.

And for the record, I have absolutely no problem with INDYCAR making this a timed race because they did so and announced it prior to the start. Everyone was playing with the same hand and had the same opportunity to make any necessary strategy adjustments.

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JOHN’S IMPRESSIONS:

What the hell just happened?!?

Did I really just witness Carlos Huertas pilot the second/TBD Dale Coyne entry into victory lane in Houston?

Surely my eyes must be deceiving me. There’s no way that Dixon, Power, Pagenaud, Kimball, Sato, Aleshin, Filippi, Saavedra, Munoz, Andretti and others would wreck or spin out while the track shifted from wet to drying back to somewhat wet.

And I couldn’t possibly have witnessed Graham Rahal ruin Tony Kanaan’s and his own race with yet another restart flub that robbed us of a frantic four-way battle for the win. There’s just no way all of that happened.

Couldn’t have.

I can’t wait for the standalone Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston on Sunday. I heard they were supposed to race a double-header this year, but I guess they decided not to.

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