HOUSTON — Moments after Colombia wrapped up its victory over Uruguay in the World Cup, a trio of Colombian drivers headed to the rain-soaked podium 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 celebratory Saturday for their country. It was the first all-Colombian podium in IndyCar history.
Huertas, a 23-year-old rookie, used strategy to get to the lead on 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 1 hour, 50 minutes because the conditions would take too long to go the scheduled distance.
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 in the doubleheader opener.
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.’ ”
Kanaan was livid after the accident and wouldn’t even look at Rahal when Rahal came to apologize after the race.
“I can’t do what I really want to do,” Kanaan said. “What a shame. To be taken out, I think it’s stupid. He was having a good day, too, and it ruined his day, too. I wanted to believe he didn’t do it on person, and of course he came to apologize.”
Rahal took full blame.
“With the stack-up on the restart, I was trying to keep the tires as dry as I could, and I was to the left and when I stacked up, I just didn’t see him at all,” Rahal said. “I just got into the back of him.”
It ended a strong run for Rahal, who stalled on the standing start but had rallied through the field and used a strong late drive to move into fourth before the last caution. Had the race gone green one last time, Rahal thought he had the winning car.