Moments after Colombia defeated Uruguay in the World Cup, three Colombian drivers headed to the rain-soaked podium Saturday at the Grand Prix of Houston.
One by one, Carlos Huertas, Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz unfurled their yellow, blue and red flags in a celebration for their country. It was the first all-Colombian podium in IndyCar history.
Rookie Huertas, 23, used strategy to grab his first career victory. He was followed by Montoya, in his highest finish in this year’s return to IndyCar, and then Munoz, who was moved to third-place when Graham Rahal wrecked Tony Kanaan on an aborted final restart.
It put Montoya, a former champion who also raced in Formula One and NASCAR, on the far right of the podium next to two young drivers who grew up idolizing him.
“Look, it’s just like beating any other driver,” Huertas said. “You guys, the fans, they know what he has done. They keep reminding us. It just shows the level of the series, if I do a good job, I can beat guys like that. My objective is to beat all the drivers and I treat them all the same.”
Stoic and unemotional, Huertas insisted he was thrilled with the victory and the footnote he and his countrymen had on the big day. Montoya and Munoz were adamant the day was historic.
“I think today is the first day in motor racing in the world that three Colombians are on the podium, it’s unbelievable and it’s exciting and, in my opinion, they’ve got a good shot in World Cup as well,” Montoya said.
It was an unpredictable and wet race through the temporary street course at Reliant Park. Originally scheduled for 90 laps, IndyCar decided right before the start to go to a timed race at one hour, 50 minutes because the conditions would take too long to go the scheduled distance.
Dale Coyne Racing used strategy to get Justin Wilson and Huertas to the front, but Wilson eventually had to pit for fuel, and Huertas assumed the lead with just over seven minutes to go. Then Ryan Briscoe turned Sebastian Saavedra, the fourth Colombian in the field, to bring out a caution with five minutes to go.
IndyCar believed it had enough time after the cleanup to run one final lap and Huertas lined up with Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and Munoz behind him,
But as they inched toward the green flag, Rahal anxiously turned Kanaan and the start was waved off. Rahal was assessed a 30-second penalty for the contact with Kanaan, and it gave Munoz the final spot on the podium.
Montoya, an idol to all young Colombian drivers, went to victory circle to congratulate Huertas.
“He’s a good kid and he did a good job today,” said Montoya, who then scolded Huertas to zip up his firesuit. “I do tease him a lot. He had the suit all open and I told him, ‘You’ve got to look good.’ ”
Brittany Force took the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill.
Force had a 3.791-second pass at 324.51 mph.
“I was excited,” said Force, the daughter of Funny Car star John Force and sister of Funny Car driver Courtney Force. “It felt like a quick run. I felt it pull me to the center line, so I never thought we were going to be No. 1. But we got it down there.”
Robert Hight topped the Funny Car field, Allen Johnson was fastest in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec led the Pro Stock Motorcycle lineup.