Honda Performance Development would rather earn wins in the Verizon IndyCar Series in a straight fight against rival manufacturer Chevrolet, however so far in the 2015 season in road races affected by rain, they will gladly take the current score output: Honda 2, Chevrolet 0. The first triumph came through the efforts of James Hinchcliffe at New Orleans, and the second came through a superior strategy plan by Andretti Autosport and its pilot Carlos Munoz on Saturday in Detroit.
Munoz and teammate Marco Andretti played the switch from dry tires to wet tires perfectly and when lightning forced an early end to the first leg of the Chevrolet Duel In Detroit doubleheader on Saturday, it was the Colombian finally standing on the top step of the podium. If weather had not affected the proceedings, the fans at the Raceway at Belle Isle street circuit could have been set for another Team Penske domination.
And why not? Roger Penske’s super quartet held four of the top five spots on the grid, with only the AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato able to get among them. However, the scenarios changed when a rain shower before the start forced the 23 starters onto wet tires for the initial green flag and the former Formula One veteran from Japan took full advantage, charging from fourth to first quickly.
While Sato surged forward, others buckled under the difficult track conditions. Graham Rahal, James Jakes, and Tony Kanaan fell victim to an overly aggressive passing attempt by Monaco-based rookie Stefano Coletti, denying the American a third straight top five in IndyCar Series competition.
With drivers trying to make progress and get in position to get to P1 when the rain returned, some near the back gambled on a change from wet to slick tires, with Marco Andretti the first to roll the dice. Others followed with mixed success. Charlie Kimball, who finished third at the Indy 500 last weekend, lost control of his Levemir FlexTouch Chevrolet and found the barrier in turn two. Sato’s hopes for victory were also dashed when he bounced off the walls and damaged his front wing.
With bad weather fast approaching, the switch back to wets began, however some drivers including Scott Dixon made the change too soon and faded out of contention. Will Power did likewise, leaving Andretti and Munoz to potentially take advantage.
Marco Andretti’s famous father Michael, urged his son to pit to change to wet tires at the same time Power did, however the young veteran insisted on staying out. Father relented and put Marco in charge of the decisions at that point. Three laps later, the Mutual of Omaha Honda came in for service and returned to the track far ahead of Power.
However, Munoz with a little more fuel on board, went a further two laps and took advantage of a dry versus wet tires per lap advantage of almost ten seconds per every 2.35 mile circuit to build a large enough cushion to take the lead himself, holding a 25 second advantage after his pit stop. Three laps later, lightning was spotted and the caution flag flew, eventually turning into a red flag and an early conclusion to the race.
The first win for Munoz comes in his 23rd Verizon IndyCar Series appearance, a career run that of course started with an impressive second place finish to Tony Kanaan in his debut at the 2013 Indy 500. Andretti held on to finish second, followed by three drivers that may have been able to control the proceedings upfront if not for the inclement weather.
Simon Pagenaud led the Penske charge in third, followed by teammate Will Power, and the first Chip Ganassi Racing entry Scott Dixon closing out the first five.
With bad weather expected again for the second leg of the doubleheader on Sunday, a similar game of auto racing chess could play out. The question, which driver will be able to control the remainder of the field’s king?