Power surges to Belle Isle Grand Prix triumph
Detroit – Will Power finally tossed aside a series of agonizing results during race weekend on Belle Isle late Sunday afternoon to win Race No. 2 of the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.
Power suffered a mechanical failure in Race No. 1 Saturday resulting in a 20th place finish, then showed he would be a factor during qualifying Sunday by putting together the fastest lap (1:13.883), but had the lap wiped out due to a penalty.
Power, who started eighth in his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, passed his Team Penske teammate and pole sitter Simon Pagenaud, going around him on the outside of Turn 2 on the final restart on Lap 52, allowing him to earn his first victory of the season before more than 30,000 fans.
“The guys did a great job in the pits, got me out in front of the 28 (Hunter-Reay), then on the restart I thought, ‘I’ve really got to capitalize here, otherwise we’re not going to win,’” Power said of his pass of Pagenaud. “I knew on that restart I had to get Simon, it was my best chance, yet had cars in front of me which makes it very difficult in turbulent air. But, he’s a championship leader and also my teammate so I had to make it a very clean move so I went to the outside. I wouldn’t have done it if I had to go to the inside, too much risk of taking him out.”
“It was a surprise to get him on the outside, it really was, I gave him room in the apex and ended up getting down to first gear, got out (ahead of him), that’s it, that’s what I needed. It’s been a long time since the No. 12 has been in Victory Lane so I’m very happy for the whole Verizon crew. I’m very happy to be the one to win it (for Roger Penske).”
Yes, it’s been more than a year since Power reached Victory Lane, winning the Indianapolis Grand Prix last May, but it was his 26th overall and 23rd in his eight years with Penske. It was Penske's sixth win on Belle Isle and his first since Power and his teammate Helio Castroneves swept the doubleheader in 2014.
“It was a good fight,” said Pagenaud who increased his points lead to 80 over Scott Dixon who finished fifth, in his Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. “He (Power) was aggressive and made a great pass and I couldn’t really do anything. I was really struggling on cold tires. My car was really good on long runs as you could see. He got me, that’s just what it is. I tried, but he had the outside lane. I have to tell you he had to brake really late to make that one stick.”
Pagenaud cut Power’s lead by more than a second during the final four laps, but couldn’t catch him to attempt a final pass. Power won by just less than a second with Ryan Hunter-Reay (Honda) finishing third, followed by Josef Newgarden (Chevrolet) and Dixon (Chevrolet).
“I tried, there was some push to pass left in the car so that’s why I got close,” Pagenaud said. “The car felt really good, every lap felt better. I tried to get close and see if I could push him to make a mistake on the last lap. You never know, sometimes it works, but I’m very happy with second today.”
Leading with 20 laps remaining, it looked as if Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves was well on his way to winning his first race since reaching Victory Lane on Belle Isle two years ago. But he did not pit when Pagenaud and Power did, and it cost him the top spot when a caution was called just seconds later as Jack Hawksworth’s car stalled on the track.
Power, the 2014 series champion, had problems from the start of the season when he crashed in practice for the opener at St. Petersburg and missed the race. He had led just eight laps all season with his best finish of the season prior to Sunday was his lone podium (third) at Phoenix. He is coming off a 10th place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and 18th place spot in the Indianapolis Grand Prix.
“I think it gives the whole crew some confidence,” Power said. “I think we’ve all kind of been stumbling a little bit. It just had been a tough start to the year, miss the first race, had a few mishaps and now we’re there.”
Hunter-Reay was pleased with his podium finish and thrilled to be leaving the physically-demanding and bumpy track.
“It was a drama-free day,” said Hunter-Reay, who laughed as Pagenaud sat nearby at the post-race press conference with his dog, Norman. “Really (looking at Pagenaud and Norman). You’re just banking points like nobody’s business right now. I’d be happy too.
“We had good pace, but it wasn’t enough to close up and make a run for Simon or Will. It’s a very physical surface, two very physical races so I’m definitely a bit relieved that’s it’s over. The bumps are worse this year. You hear us IndyCar drivers talk about that and it’s like, ‘Oh be quiet about the bumps.’ We run the cars on the ground basically already, right so when they do bottom and hit on a big bump like that it goes right through your back because the seats are this thick (shows less than a half inch) so it hurts and makes for an extremely physical race that way because you have all the kickback on the wheel.”
Race No. 1 winner Sebastien Bourdais led with 18 laps to go following that final restart, but had to pit to get fuel. He finished eighth. Castroneves finished 14th.
Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi finished 12th.