The Chevy Dual in Detroit has a habit of throwing up some surprise performances, and it proved to be the case again in this year’s first installment of the IndyCar Series’ sole double-header event of the season.
Andretti Autosport’s young hotshot, Carlos Muñoz, ended the team’s twelve-race winless streak, as a combination of wild weather and some shocking pit calls from almost the entire field combined the give the young Colombian his first IndyCar Series win.
With the threat of heavy thunderstorms set to hit the Detroit area on late Saturday afternoon, IndyCar officials sought to bring the start of the race forward in the hope of avoiding the worst of the weather that was set to come. They also capped the race at a two-hour time limit, no doubt anticipating a raft of full course cautions given that there had been no wet-weather running here in the lead-up to the race.
Persistent shower periods saw the race start under a single-file rolling start and the early mover was Takuma Sato, who blasted his way from fourth into the lead in the space of a lap-and-a-half, scything his way ahead of the Penskes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves and Will Power.
Lap 3 saw the first of the race’s seven caution periods, when Dale Coyne Racing’s umpteenth pay driver, former Marussia F1 ‘reserve’ driver Rodolfo González, spun into the wall exiting Turn 2. The Venezuelan needed a push start from the Holmatro Safety Crew and he was back in action at the back of the pack, only to retire for good when he slapped the wall exiting the penultimate corner on Lap 25.
The first González safety car interruption lasted a few laps, but we were to have yet another example of how one safety car tends to breed another as soon as the racing resumed on Lap 6.
Stefano Coletti made a rather wild lunge under braking at Turn 1, tipping James Jakes into Tony Kanaan. Both were sent straight into the tyre barriers, and an unsighted Graham Rahal was the biggest victim of the melee, hitting Kanaan’s sideways car and breaking his front suspension against the Brazilian’s rear wing.
A frustrated Rahal was out on the spot, while Kanaan managed to limp back to the pits for a lengthy rear wing assembly change.
The field went to another brief green flag period on the twelfth lap, and within a few minutes the track was dry enough to prompt a switch to dry-weather tyres.
A few brave drivers had taken the gamble of switching to dry tyres during the second Safety Car period, and as a result found themselves at the front of the field. Marco Andretti was now in the lead, while the likes of Jack Hawksworth, Luca Filippi, Stefano Coletti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Conor Daly also gained significant track position through similar early tyre changes.
On Lap 21 the pace car was out again while bits of Sato’s front wing were cleaned up between Turns 2 and 3 after a rather predictably ill-timed lunge on Josef Newgarden.
There was no rhythm to this race at all with a further two full-course caution periods over the next ten laps for debris clean-ups. In the midst of all of this was a stroke of sheer misfortune for Conor Daly – standing in at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the injured James Hinchcliffe – who suffered rear-end damage after being hit from behind by Ryan Hunter-Reay while the pack was being backed up before a green-flag restart.
The young American was running a hugely impressive fifth at that point, but it was yet another dose of shocking bad luck to hit the former GP3 and GP2 Series driver.
Meanwhile, the reports of incoming rain created panic throughout the pit lane, with a number of teams – some by sheer silliness, while others were forced by the rapidly-emptying fuel tanks of their drivers’ cars – calling their chargers in for a switch to wet-weather tyres before the next rain shower had hit the circuit.
Andretti insisted – over a series of heated exchanges on the pit-to-car radio – that he stay out on track until his fuel tank was almost empty, and proceeded to circulate some 10 seconds a lap faster than the impulsive drivers who pitted for wet tyres and were rapidly burning them out waiting for the rain to come.
It was a brilliant strategy call that the team mirrored for Muñoz. But for a momentary cut-out on Andretti’s engine – which cost him the lead and a further four positions until he could bump-start his car – he would have won the race a broken a 60-race winless streak.
As it was, the incident allowed Muñoz to slip ahead, and when the pair finally pitted, it was the Colombian who remained in front.
The rain finally came, and on Lap 47, the race was put out of its misery when Luca Filippi slithered into the tyre wall at Turn 1.
Muñoz was declared the winner with a hastily set up indoor podium, with teammate Andretti in second to give the outfit a valuable 1-2.
Simon Pagenaud rounded out the podium for Team Penske. Having shown poor pace in the race, the Frenchman – a winner here in 2013 – earned the position by dint of Penske mucking up his tyre strategy to a lesser extent than the rest of his teammates.
It was certainly a strange race.
|2015 IndyCar Series Chevrolet Dual in Detroit – Race 1 Final Classification (47 laps*)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport||47||1:27:45.7906|
|2.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||47||76.0609|
|3.||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||47||78.1520|
|4.||Will Power||Team Penske||47||124.3984|
|5.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||47||125.0423|
|6.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||47||127.6021|
|7.||Jack Hawksworth||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||47||128.9882|
|8.||Josef Newgarden||CFH Racing||47||129.5529|
|9.||Luca Filippi||CFH Racing||47||Accident|
|10.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske||46||1 lap behind|
|11.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||46||1 lap behind|
|12.||James Jakes||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||46||1 lap behind|
|13.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||46||1 lap behind|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology||46||1 lap behind|
|15.||Stefano Coletti||KV Racing Technology||46||1 lap behind|
|16.||Sage Karam||Chip Ganassi Racing||46||1 lap behind|
|17.||Tristan Vautier||Dale Coyne Racing||46||1 lap behind|
|18.||Gabby Chaves||Bryan Herta Autosport||46||1 lap behind|
|19.||Conor Daly||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||46||1 lap behind|
|20.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing||33||14 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Rodolfo González||Dale Coyne Racing||25||Accident|
|DNF.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||13||Accident|
|DNF.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||5||Collision|
* Race distance capped at 70 laps or 2-hour times race (whichever occurred first) due to wet weather. Race was red-flagged after 47 laps.
Images via IndyCar Series and Motorsport.com