Will Power ended his 2021 win drought with a hard-fought victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Saturday.
Power started on the outside of the front row alongside polesitter Pato O’Ward in what began as a duel of tire strategies: Power was in step with the bulk of the field in starting on the harder-compound Firestones, while O’Ward was one of a handful to get an early stint on the reds under his belt.
Whatever advantage O’Ward might have derived from the alternates, it wasn’t enough: he made his first stop on lap 17, three laps after Power, and was passed by the No. 12 Penske within a lap of rejoining the track.
Having seized the advantage, Power set about capitalizing on it and quickly set about building a gap to Colton Herta, who passed O’Ward for second with a move at Turn 1. Through the middle phase of the race, Power’s advantage began inching toward blowout territory: at one point, he was almost 10s clear. But that changed when he chanced upon the No. 29 Andretti car of James Hinchcliffe. Between wanting to remain on the lead lap, and potentially smother some of Power’s advantage over Andretti teammate Herta at the same time, Hinchcliffe had plenty of cause to make his car as wide as possible.
Power’s frustration at not being able to get past the Canadian was evident in his radio communications, but if Hinch really was channeling his inner Eddie Irvine, he was doing it superbly. By the time Power was finally able to make his next stop, his gap to Herta had been almost completely wiped out. And just to rub salt into that wound, Hinchcliffe — who’d pitted on the same lap as Power — beat the No.12 out of the pits, and the Australian was forced to start his next stint once again staring at Hinchcliffe’s rear wing.
Salvation came in the form of a trail of smoke from the rear of Alex Palou’s car. The championship leader had spent the early part of the race wrestling with a fuel map glitch, and while the team managed to tame that to some degree, this new problem was very clearly terminal. After 67 laps of green flag racing, the first yellow of the day came out to allow the No. 10 Ganassi car to be removed from the track. A happy byproduct of that from Power’s standpoint was that Hinchcliffe was shuffled out of his way for the restart, meaning a clear track ahead.
Herta still led the pursuit at this point, while Romain Grosjean had also found a way past O’Ward and was holding third. Power had the measure of both of them at the restart to open a small gap, and then had to do it all over again a few laps later when a second restart was needed following a caution to rescue Rinus VeeKay, who’d been spun by Scott McLaughlin.
Again though, Power was only met with muted resistance at the restart and — helped by the fact Grosjean and Herta had torched all of their push-to-pass — he managed the gap over the closing laps to claim redemption after a tumultuous visit to Nashville last week.
The 40th career win for @12WillPower.
A milestone victory at the Racing Capital of the World.
#INDYCAR // #BigMachineGP // @Team_Penske pic.twitter.com/r3c0h5wxrM
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 14, 2021
“We needed it as a group,” Power said. “I can’t tell you how good these guys have been this year. Flawless in pit stops, they’ve given me good a car, and we’ve had some bad luck, and I’ve made some mistakes as well. What a relief. When the yellow came and then another one, you’ve to survive those yellows, but we had a really good car. It was a bit tough in traffic, but the car was good out front.”
Grosjean, meanwhile, found a way past Herta at the first restart and took the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda across the line for second, echoing his finish at the track back in May.
“It been a cool weekend; very competitive,” he grinned. “We’ve had a good car all day and fought at the front. I’m happy to be second. I’d like to be first, but if every time we come to Indy I finish second, I’ll be happy with that. I ran out of push-to-pass early; had to use quite a bit early to get through lapped cars, so when the restart happened, I knew I had to go flat-out and not make mistakes.”
For Herta, third represented a solid recovery after the disappointment of a dominant Nashville performance that ended in the barriers.
“That was a good bounce back from Nashville,” he said. “Great job by everybody. Pit stops were great, strategy was great. I think we maximized everything today. We didn’t have anything for Grosjean or Power, so I think third was the best we could do.”
Palou’s misfortune had a huge bearing on the flavor of the championship fight. One a day where Scott Dixon made stout early progress from the rear of the field before getting bogged down in the midpack and Josef Newgarden seemed to spend a lot of the afternoon trying not to get taken out at Turn 1, Palou was poised to leave the weekend with a 50-point advantage. Instead, his buffer has been slashed to just 21, and O’Ward’s fifth place helped vault the Mexican back into second ahead of Dixon.
Elsewhere, RLL rookie Christian Lundgaard was able to carry his stellar early weekend pace through the first stint, but as the race went on the Dane found it increasingly hard to remain in touch with the leaders. He still finished a very respectable 12th.
Top Gun Racing’s debut as a team lasted 12 laps before RC Enerson was forced to retire the No.75 Chevy.