DETROIT (AP) — Carlos Munoz understands that his first IndyCar victory comes with a footnote.
That won’t stop him from enjoying it.
Munoz won Saturday at Belle Isle when the race was called because of rain after 47 laps. The 23-year-old Colombian driver had a substantial lead when a caution flag came out with just over 30 minutes remaining in what was supposed to be a 2-hour race. The yellow flag was due to lightning in the area, and the race went under a red flag not long after that.
Then the rest was called off, and Munoz had his first victory on the series in 28 starts.
“Not the way I wanted to win,” Munoz said. “I wanted to win this one, 100 percent, all the laps complete. But a win is a win.”
The anticlimactic ending shouldn’t detract from a bold performance by Munoz and Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, both of whom stayed out on the track for a while on dry-weather tires before making pit stops toward the end. Munoz took the lead when Andretti entered pit row on lap 40, and he remained in front after making a stop of his own two laps later.
Andretti ended up finishing second, followed by Simon Pagenaud and pole-winner Will Power. This was the first of two IndyCar races this weekend at Belle Isle. The second is Sunday.
Saturday’s race was initially set up for 70 laps on the 2.35-mile street course that includes 14 turns. There was supposed to be a 2-hour limit because of the wet conditions.
Munoz, in the No. 26 Honda, gave that manufacturer only its second victory of the season in a series dominated by Chevrolet of late.
“I think we mastered today’s conditions, and that’s why he won the race,” said Andretti, who drove the No. 27 Honda. “I think both Andretti Autosport and Honda are up to the task, and we’re not giving up.”
There had been a decent amount of rain earlier in the day at Belle Isle, but conditions were a bit clearer when the IndyCar race started, forcing drivers to decide whether to go with tires suited for wet or dry conditions. Andretti made an early pit stop, wanting to go with dry-weather tires as the track dried out.
“I was confident I wanted to come in to get slicks on, and this was early on,” Andretti said. “That’s where it started. It was sort of a blessing and a curse, because that’s where I lost the race too, because (Munoz) was able to do it a couple laps after me there, and that’s what allowed him to run a couple laps longer at the end.”
After both he and Andretti had made their late pit stops, Munoz led. In fact, on lap 44 he was ahead by 26 seconds.
“When I saw Marco I said, ‘Should we come in next lap on the pits?'” Munoz said. “The guys say, ‘No, push hard.’ The track actually at the beginning was more wet, then it was getting drier again. When they say pit, I was in Turn 11, it starts to really rain a lot.”
Munoz finally put on the rain tires, and then it seemed that the caution would undo much of his good work by reducing his lead, but when the race was called, he was suddenly the winner.
“In races like this, anything can happen and I felt very confident in our guys that they would get the job done,” owner Michael Andretti said.
Munoz finished second in the Indianapolis 500 in 2013, but his main job at that point was driving for Michael Andretti’s team in Indy Lights, a developmental series.
His victory Saturday interrupted Team Penske’s dominance at this track. Both winners at this doubleheader last year — Power and Helio Castroneves — are Penske Drivers. Penske also swept the top three in Friday’s qualifying.
On Saturday, Pagenaud and Power finished 3-4 for Penske, while Castroneves was sixth. Juan Pablo Montoya, the Indy 500 winner, was 10th.
Although Montoya wasn’t much of a factor Saturday, he still leads the points standings by 11 over Power. And Munoz’s victory made it two victories in a row for Colombians in IndyCar.
“I think it is great for Colombia. Motorsport was really high when Juan was here in the beginning. … I think now it’s getting back,” Munoz said. “Everything is good for Latin America. I think it’s a great market for IndyCar.”
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