Madison, Ill. — Will Power used to hate racing on ovals about as much as he hates conserving fuel.
The oval part has changed considerably this season. The fuel part?
“I was just, ‘Ah! Come on! Let’s race this properly!’” Power said Saturday night, after some of his closest rivals began saving every last drop as they tried to finish on one less pit stop.
“I was just so stoked,” Power said, “when they said, ‘Let’s just go hard.’”
With a splash of fuel in the tank and the encouragement of team owner Roger Penske over the radio, Power drove wide open to the checkered flag, beating fuel-conserving Alexander Rossi and series leader Scott Dixon to claim the victory at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Rossi wound up second but still took a nibble out of Dixon’s point lead – the difference between them is down to 26 points with races left at Portland and Sonoma.
Simon Pagenaud was fourth and Zach Veach, who led an IndyCar race for the first time, was fifth.
“The Andretti guys and Rossi did a fantastic job making that no-stop situation work,” Dixon said, “and big congrats to Will. He was fast at the end of the race.”
Power is another 42 points back but can’t be counted out yet, given the double points at the season finale and his prodigious talent on road courses. He won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis this year, just before his big oval breakthrough at the Indy 500, and his win at Gateway was the 35th of his career – moving Power into a tie with Bobby Unser for seventh on the career list.
“I was kind of mad at Dixon. He pushed me out in the marbles. It kind of gave me motivation to get him back,” Power said. “Man, I never had so much fun and passed so many cars.”
It was the first race for IndyCar since Robert Wickens was involved in a terrifying wreck last Sunday at Pocono. His car touched had Ryan Hunter-Reay’s early in the race, sending the Canadian driver spinning into the catch fence and obliterating his car.
Wickens underwent surgery to insert titanium rods and screws to stabilize his spine, and he had another procedure later in the week to his extremities. But while his prognosis is still unclear, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team announced shortly before the green flag that Wickens was breathing without medical assistance and had talked to his family for the first time since the wreck.
His presence was still felt at Gateway, whether it was his backup car parked in front of the team haulers or the RW6 hats in the paddock and No. 6 stickers worn by his rivals.
Team owner Sam Schmidt elected to field only James Hinchcliffe’s car this week, though Wickens’ close friend and fellow Canadian was dealing with injuries of his own. Hinchcliffe was hit in the hands by debris from Wickens’ crash, breaking a finger and resulting in some swelling.
Hinchcliffe struggled with handling all night and wound up ninth.
The race was shaping up as a fuel-mileage competition all along on the 1.25-mile oval, with some teams trying to make it the 248 laps on three stops. But when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’d been running third at the time, lost power to bring out the caution it appeared fuel strategy wouldn’t matter.
Rossi gave it a shot anyway, refusing to race with the leaders as he saved every drop of fuel. It was reminiscent of the way he conserved late to win the 100th edition of the Indy 500.
“I was seeing the (fuel) numbers I was trying to get and I was thinking, ‘Man, everyone is going to have to go really slow to get it,’” Power said. “Roger (Penske) said, ‘Go,’ so we did.”
Allgaier wins Xfinity race
Race leader Justin Allgaier watched in the mirror as the two cars closest to his Chevrolet made contact, essentially bumping his two closest rivals out of contention.
The coast was clear for Allgaier to sail to victory at Road America for his fourth win of the season.
But Allgaier kept thinking about everything else that could go wrong.
What if he didn’t hit his mark on a turn? What if his car ran over a debris on the track? What if he just ran out of fuel?
“OK if I run out of gas I may not go back to the garage area,” Allgaier said in recounting his internal conversation. “I may just walk back home to Charlotte.”
Instead, he’ll head back with his second victory in three weeks, both coming on road courses, after pulling away over the final five laps.
Allgaier held a 5.4-second advantage over second-place Matt Tifft to take the tense race filled with bumps, scrapes and spin-outs around the 14-turn course. Daniel Hemric, Tifft’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, was third.
The victory erases the sting of a close call in 2011, when Allgaier led late in the race before running out of fuel during a yellow flag.
This time, Allgaier was the beneficiary of late-race commotion.
With three laps to go, second-place James Davison and third-place Justin Marks were jockeying for position trying desperately to catch Allgaier when their cars spun out around a tight left turn.
Tifft blew past Davison and Marks. But no one could catch Allgaier, who started 11th. The victory allowed him to leapfrog Christopher Bell atop the series driver standings.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott finished 20th after coming out of retirement to take his first ride Xfinity ride around Road America. The 62-year-old Elliott started 23rd, then climbed up to 17th before spinning out and falling back.
“It was a heck of a lot of fun,” Elliott said.
The old-school driver would have loved the racing at the front of the field. It was an entertaining afternoon for NASCAR during an off week for the top-level Cup circuit.
Most of the attention coming into the race fell on Road America rookies like Elliott. British racer Katherine Legge, who was driving in her second NASCAR race, finished 14th.
IndyCar driver Conor Daly, who was making his NASCAR debut, finished 31st. A suspension issue forced his No. 6 Ford into the garage after 35 laps.
Hamilton takes Belgian GP pole
Lewis Hamilton again showed he’s the best driver in the rain by taking pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver saved his best for the last lap to easily beat Sebastian Vettel’s leading time for Ferrari by 0.7 seconds and secure a Formula One record-extending 78th pole.
“The rain is always a friend of mine,” Hamilton said. “I think that was one of the hardest sessions I can remember. We only had a few laps to find the grip (in the rain), to find where the track was dry and wet.”
Hamilton has won the last two races — both affected by rain — to take the championship lead and move 24 points in front of Vettel.
Vettel was second in another disappointment for Ferrari, which topped all three practice sessions. But like in previous races, the rain seemed to affect Vettel’s confidence and boost Hamilton’s.