INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power’s timing was impeccable Saturday.
He picked the perfect strategy with his red tires. He pressed the push-to-pass button at precisely the right moment. He gave Roger Penske his 200th series win at Penske’s place – Indianapolis.
Power overcame a late caution period that shrunk his lead, barely won the race off pit lane on the final stop and even drove through some light rain to pull away from Scott Dixon by 2.2443 seconds for his second straight IndyCar Grand Prix victory.
“It’s been a slow start for us, so it’s fantastic to get the win,” the first three-time race winner said. “It’s amazing to be a part of that history with Penske Racing because it’s such a deep history.”
It might be just what the Australian needed.
He came into the weekend with only one top-five finish all season, a second at Long Beach. The only other top-10 he had this season was in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
But Power won the pole Friday and dominated again on Indy’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. He led a race-high 56 laps including the last 34 after taking advantage of his tire choice to quickly close the gap with race leader Robert Wickens on the front straightaway before making a smooth move to beat the rookie into the first turn on Lap 51.
“He was on blacks and I was on reds, so I returned the favor and really caught him,” Power said. “Once I got past him it was pretty straight forward because we were much faster.”
Power has won three of the last four road-course events at Indy – all from the pole.
Wickens, a Canadian who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, finished third more than 8.1 seconds off the pace.
“That was the first time where I felt like a true rookie in that final stint because I’ve never had to save fuel before,” Wickens said. “The amount we had to save was something I didn’t think was even possible.”
Power and Dixon didn’t have any problems, of course.
Dixon, the New Zealander with Chip Ganassi Racing, methodically maneuvered through the field after starting 18th. He managed to get into the top three but never really got close enough to challenge Power.
“It was definitely a rough weekend,” Dixon said. “Happy with today. Obviously, we come here to win but congrats to Will and Penske on their 200th win.”
The only thing that seemed to slow down Power was the caution that came on Lap 56 when his teammate Josef Newgarden spun in the 12th turn. The yellow flag shrunk Power’s lead from more than four seconds to less than one.
Then he barely beat Wickens off pit lane on the final stop and never looked back.
“Every lap was like qualifying. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that in a race,” Power said after handing Penske his fourth straight win in the race. “Today, I drove just absolutely perfect.”
Seven drivers led the race, tying a record set in 2014, and there were 214 total passes. Chevrolet now leads Honda 3-2 in victories in the engine manufacturer’s race.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves finished sixth in his season debut.
One year after the 85-lap race finished caution-free, it didn’t take long for the yellow flag to come out.
It happened with two incidents on the first lap.
The first involved two-time race winner Simon Pagenaud and rookie Jordan King going off the course in the first turn. The second came in the sixth turn when Spencer Pigot drove over a chicane and came out on the other side where he collided with defending Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato.
Pigot received a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact.
Wickens. Despite fading late when he was saving fuel, he has started three races in the top six and finished in the top-five three times. He would probably have four top-fives if not for a late crash at St. Petersburg.
Marco Andretti. It was a tough weekend for the 31-year-old. He was eliminated early in qualifying Friday, blew an engine during Saturday’s warmup session and wound up finishing 14th for Andretti Autosport.
Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is next weekend. The 500 will be run May 27.
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