Carlos Huertas pulls Houston shocker, wins Race 1 of Shell/Pennzoil GP (VIDEO)

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The most anonymous driver of this year’s class of Verizon IndyCar Series rookies is no longer anonymous.

Dale Coyne Racing’s Carlos Huertas, a largely unheralded Colombian driver whose deal to race in IndyCar came together late this past offseason, was able to make a late-race fuel gamble work for him and win Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston under caution.

When Will Power’s run-in with the Turn 9 tire barriers brought out a yellow with less than half an hour to go in the 1 hour, 50 minute race (IndyCar invoked the time limit after a short delay for rain), both Coyne drivers – Huertas and veteran teammate Justin Wilson – were told to stay out for track position.

At the next restart with 21 minutes left, Wilson had the lead with Huertas running in second ahead of fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya in third. At the time, Wilson hadn’t pitted until Lap 28; Huertas, since Lap 41.

Unfortunately for Wilson, the strategy did not pay off for him as he had to pit for fuel with less than eight minutes to go. That left Huertas defending the lead against Montoya, the former Indy 500 champion.

With four minutes to go, Ryan Briscoe turned Sebastian Saavedra around in Turn 4 to bring out a full-course yellow. The field was given word that there would be just one lap to go when the green flag came out.

But in a shocking turn of events, Graham Rahal – who had been in the middle of a late-race surge into the Top 5 – ran into Tony Kanaan from behind and spun him.

That forced IndyCar to wave off what would have been a wild dash, ensuring that Huertas would win his first IndyCar race in his ninth career start.

“It was always possible,” Huertas said to NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “The team did a great job and the races are so long here that you always have a chance to win here if you do the right things at the right time.

“Today was really tough. I was really struggling. I had no pace in the first half of the race, but I reminded myself, ‘Stay calm, do what you have to do.’ The team called it perfectly with the fuel. It was a great day.”

The gamble may not have worked for both of his drivers, but team owner Dale Coyne was glad to hit the jackpot with Huertas.

“Justin needed one more yellow a little bit earlier and we knew it was going to be close,” Coyne said. “But we thought Carlos was in a really good spot. The kid’s been doing better all year and he showed that when you put him at the front, he’ll stay at the front.”

As for Montoya, he made sure to congratulate his fellow Colombian for a job well done in Victory Lane.

“He’s a good kid and he did a good job today,” he said. “He did what he had to do to win…Our Verizon Chevy was really good today and I thought there that we had a chance to win. But at the end, the tires went off.”

With IndyCar issuing a 30-second time penalty for avoidable contact to Rahal (who finished 11th), that elevated a third Colombian driver – Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Huertas – to the final step of the podium.

Between the Houston Race 1 podium and the Colombian national soccer team’s win over Uruguay in the World Cup, no doubt that June 28, 2014 will likely go down to some as “Colombia Day.”

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
RACE 1, NRG Park
Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (19) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 80, Running
2. (11) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 80, Running
3. (23) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 80, Running
4. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 80, Running
5. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, 80, Running
6. (21) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 80, Running
7. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 80, Running
8. (16) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 80, Running
9. (2) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 80, Running
10. (7) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 80, Running
11. (14) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 80, Running
12. (15) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 80, Running
13. (22) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 80, Running
14. (18) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 79, Running
15. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 79, Running
16. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 74, Running
17. (17) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy, 55, Mechanical
18. (13) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 54, Contact
19. (3) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 46, Contact
20. (12) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 41, Mechanical
21. (4) Luca Filippi, Rahal-Honda, 36, Contact
22. (6) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 32, Contact
23. (10) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 31, Contact

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 70.389 mph
Time of Race: 01:51:25.5649
Margin of victory: 0.0975
Cautions: 6 for 24 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pagenaud 1 – 4
Sato 5 – 26
Hinchcliffe 27
Wilson 28
Hinchcliffe 29 – 59
Wilson 60 – 73
Huertas 74 – 80

Point Standings:
Power 386
Castroneves 353
Hunter-Reay 336
Pagenaud 295
Montoya 263
Munoz 262
Andretti 259
Dixon 225
Hinchcliffe 214
Bourdais 212

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne