Make no mistake, Will Power will arrive in the Motor City this week as the face of Team Penske when the IndyCar series comes to Belle Isle for the annual doubleheader, 70-lap races on Saturday and Sunday.
Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Josef Newgarden (2017) have won the series championship the past two years, but Power also owns a series title (2014) and on Sunday walked away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the winner of IndyCar’s most prestigious event.
Power – the 37-year-old Australian – took the lead when leader Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey pitted for gas with five laps left, then led the final four laps to take the checkered flag while giving owner Roger Penske his 17th Indy 500 victory, his first since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 when Power finished second.
While Penske, the 81-year-old Bloomfield Hills businessman, threw his fist in the air in celebration, Power was screaming in jubilation and his wife, Liz, began crying.
“It feels fantastic, feels like my career is now complete,” Power told The Detroit News during a phone interview on Monday. “I want to see the full footage of the end, seems like she (Liz) was really on the edge, but that shows how much passion she has for the race itself and the sport. We love racing and it’s our life, and winning the Indy 500 is something really special for us.”
Power led for 59 laps in his No. 12 Chevrolet, but had to battle back from fourth following his final pit stop while Wilson, Harvey and Oriol Servia stayed out in hopes of winning on fuel mileage.
John Niyo and Gregg Krupa preview the 2018 Detroit Grand Prix with IndyCar drivers Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Max Chilton. The Detroit News
“Before that yellow with about 10 to go, I was like, ‘These guys aren’t going to make it,’ because I was catching them very quickly, and then when it went yellow it was like this is going to help them a lot to save fuel, this is going to be interesting,” recalled Power, talking about Tony Kanaan’s accident with 12 laps left, which resulted in a caution.
“I knew I had to get a really good restart, which I did, then I passed Oriol and then the other two (Wilson, Harvey) peeled off because they were not going to make it, and that was when I was pretty sure I was going to win the race. At that point I just ran as hard as I could.”
Power’s life will never be the same now that he is an Indianapolis 500 winner. He is now the leader of Team Penske, especially with three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves retiring as a full-time driver in the series at the end of last season. He now has more wins than any other driver in Team Penske history, owning 31.
Power said he was exhausted, taking dozens of phone interviews before the Indy 500 banquet Monday night, then jumping on a flight to New York, where he will be on the “Today Show” on Tuesday. He will arrive in Detroit Wednesday.
“I’m exhausted, just non-stop interviews,” said Power, adding he didn’t sleep well Sunday night.
Power was so proud to win another Indy 500 for Penske, who has been his car owner since 2009.
“That is the place that Roger puts an emphasis on,” Power said. “He’s been there since he was 14, when his dad took him to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He just loves it. He spends the whole month there, talks about setup. It’s a real honor to get Roger his 17th.”
Power will be coming to Detroit with momentum, also winning the road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier in the month. He now sits atop the points standings with 243, two ahead of Alexander Rossi – the 2016 Indy 500 winner – 10 more than Newgarden and 25 in front of Scott Dixon.
Power took advantage of the double-points awarded in the Indy 500 and now can accumulate a lot more points with the doubleheader just days ahead.
Power has enjoyed his share of success on Belle Isle’s bumpy 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course. He won on the island in 2014 and went on to earn his lone IndyCar series championship, then won Race No. 2 in 2016. He finished third in the second race last year.
“I want to have a great weekend there,” Power said. “I love the track. It’s obviously Roger’s home track and Chevrolet’s home track, as well. It’s one of my favorite places to go and I’m looking forward to it.”
What does Power expect from the new IndyCar, which has less downforce, but still has the speed to put more of the driving in the driver’s hands with the braking heading into the corners?
“I think it will race very well, cars will be much closer,” predicted Power. “It’s definitely a fun car to drive and I think it will be particularly fun at that track.”
DETROIT GRAND PRIX
Where: Belle Isle
IndyCar: Dual IndyCar races on Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.; each day, 70 laps each
Saturday — TransAm Challenge Race, 8:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 1, 10:05 a.m.; IMSA SportsCar Championship, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday — TransAm Dash Race, 11:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 2, 2:05 p.m.