Power, Penske win final Detroit GP at Belle Isle

Michael Levitt/Lumen

Power, Penske win final Detroit GP at Belle Isle

IndyCar

Power, Penske win final Detroit GP at Belle Isle

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“Redemption!” was Will Power’s exclamation over the radio as he won a tense thriller to claim the final Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of Belle Isle. It was a race of strategies in which Power’s massive lead was cut to 1.0s at the checkered flag as Alexander Rossi did everything he could to earn his first win in nearly three years.

But it was Power, who was on the road to victory during last year’s Detroit Round 1 and lost the lead during a red flag when his No. 12 Team Penske Chevy refused to fire on pit lane, who put on a masterclass in tire conservation. The 16th-place starter had no problems on Sunday, as he and others who started deep in the pack used a two-stop strategy that began with using Firestone’s primary tires, and ended up being rewarded in the end.

Only Rossi, who started on Firestone’s faster but less durable alternate tires and dove in almost immediately to take primaries and switch to a three-stop strategy, was able to make it work as he cut a 16.0s deficit down to 1.0027s at the checkered flag.

“I just drove it as straight as I could,” Power said after struggling on alternates to close the race. “Man, stellar job by the team. Really stoked to get the Chevy into victory lane. It was redemption for last year; I was waiting for something to happen in the last 10 laps.”

Nothing could derail Power as the race went green for all but a few final moments after he crossed the start/finish line, and well behind him Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay clipped the wall and nosed into the tires at Turn 6. It wasn’t the only adversity of the day, but none of the incidents required safety cars or stoppages.

The unrelenting pace — fastest in the history of the race — is what allowed Rossi to put in his most impressive drive in quite some time in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, and while he was disappointed to finish second, the effort moved him to seventh in the championship standings.

“I think one more lap would have been really interesting, but you gotta give credit to the No. 12 car guys and Will,” Rossi said. “That’s hard to do at the end to hang on. Yet again, we come here with an amazing car but can’t quite get the win, but it was a good recovery from yesterday. The strategy was good.”

The final member of the podium was Scott Dixon, who started on primaries like Power but went for alternates in the middle stint and closed on primaries. His No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda improved from a ninth-place start, but didn’t have the outright pace to keep up with Power or Rossi.

“Better than I thought; being one of the lucky few that started on the [primaries], you could watch it play out,” Dixon said after recording his best finish of the season. “But kudos to Will; he was aggressive at the start, jumped us, and he was on the same strategy. Rossi did a hell of a job as well.”

Team Penske polesitter Josef Newgarden was one who struggled a bit after expecting a caution to assist his day and finished fourth. Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward was in a similar position after starting and finishing fifth. Like Power’s big 15-place improvement, Ganassi’s Alex Palou jumped from 18th to sixth using the same strategy as Dixon, and from there, most of the field left Detroit feeling somewhat or completely disappointed in their days.

Where VeeKay fell from 10th to 16th with his crash on the closing lap, Penske’s Scott McLaughlin fell to last early in the race when he spun and lost a lap while trying to get the car turned around; he’d finish 19th. Helio Castroneves had terminal electrical problems with his Meyer Shank Racing car that ruined a strong run after 21 laps, and after pitting from second, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Kyle Kirkwood hit the wall on cold tires and retired on lap 49. Graham Rahal’s weekend of misery was ended on lap 2 as he slammed the rear of his car into the Turn 2 wall and suffered too much damage to continue.

Power was not going to be denied at Belle Isle, and thanks to his peerless drive the championship lead has returned to his hands. Can he maintain the exemplary focus that’s been utilized at every race this season and bid for a second championship? The summer months are about to get interesting.

As it happened:

It was a strange start where only half the field was lined up to take the green flag. Everyone took off and saw Scott Dixon — the first driver on the slower primary tires — fall back from P9 to P11 as Scott McLaughlin and Alexander Rossi blew by. Takuma Sato’s front-row start was turned into P4 as both Meyer Shank Racing drivers, led by Simon Pagenaud, got by to hold P2 and P3.

Graham Rahal’s miserable weekend was compounded with a hard solo hit with the Turn 2 exit wall which broke his right-rear suspension on lap 2. Rinus VeeKay pitted under green on lap 4 to trade alternate tires for primaries and go for a three-stop strategy, but he sat idle on pit lane for a crucial few seconds and returned in P23. Rossi was next in for the same tire trade and strategy adjustment on lap 5 and resumed in P22.

David Malukas, running seventh, was next to adopt the three-stop strategy and Santino Ferrucci was in seconds later for the same call. Will Power was the big mover, having leapt to P7 after starting P16 on the favored primary tires. Dixon was up to P8 on the same primaries. Power kept motoring and took P6 from Sato and Dixon took P7 from Colton Herta.

Sato pitted on lap 10 for primaries as Power and Dixon and Palou continued ripping through the field of drivers struggling on alternates. By lap 11, the trio were P3, P5 and P6. Kyle Kirkwood, on primaries, was up to P7 on the same lap.

Power was up to P2 and Dixon to P3 early on lap 12 as their two-stop primary strategy was working to perfection. Polesitter and race leader Josef Newgarden on alternates was lapping at a 1m21s while Power, Dixon and Palou were in the 1m18s range and carving into his advantage. On lap 14, Power pounced on his teammate for the lead and Dixon was by a few corners later; Palou also went by, demoting Newgarden to P4 in a half-lap.

By lap 17, Kirkwood was up to P4, Rossi’s three-stop charge had him up to P5 and Newgarden was 12.0s back from Power in P6. A number of drivers pitted on lap 17 early in the two-stop window and more were expected to follow.

Lap 18 saw Scott McLaughlin spin in Turn 3 and eventually got going after losing a considerable amount of time trying to engage reverse. The rest of the three-stoppers on alternates pitted, including Newgarden, as the possibility of a caution — which never flew — loomed while McLaughlin was getting himself sorted.

A super long pit stop for Helio Castroneves on lap 23, who appeared to have some sort of issue engaging first gear. Kirkwood came in on lap 24 as the first of the two-stoppers on primaries and returned in P9 on primaries. Rossi made his second stop on lap 25; he was then in a position to capitalize on the move to three stops if the leaders struggled on their alternates. He settled in P8.

Power boxed on lap 26 and took primaries again, leaving alternates as his last set to use. Dixon was in at the end of lap 26 and took alternates as Palou pitted as well and also took alternates. The two Ganassi drivers needed to make the alternates last an extraordinary amount of time, which no driver had been able to so far.

Rossi, who was 18s behind leader Power and seven behind Palou in P3 on lap 29, was charging again. By lap 30, he drew the lead down to 13.3s as his pace on primaries was far superior to Power while Dixon and Palou were in full tire-management mode.

By lap 38, Rossi was in Palou’s wheel tracks and 12.8s behind Power and by lap 39 P3 was his after demoting Palou. Power was a full 15.0s up the road from Dixon. His reduced pace also slowed Rossi who saw his gap to Power grow to 16.0s at the start of lap 42.

On Lap 43 Rossi finally get ahead of Dixon who was getting close to pitting for the last time to take primaries. Palou was in on lap 44 for primaries as Rossi’s gap to Power was 18.7s. Dixon, Newgarden and O’Ward all pitted on lap 45. Power stretched his lead to 19.4s on the same lap.

Newgarden, in P10, and O’Ward emerged ahead of Palou as more drivers dove into the pits. Rossi pitted again on lap 47 and returned ahead of Dixon in P4.

Kirkwood pitted from second, went to alternates and smacked the wall with the left-rear on his out-lap, bending the suspension and ending his day. Power was in at the end of lap 50 for alternates and had a 16.0s lead over Rossi by lap 52.

Rossi was running about 1.2s a lap faster and had the lead down to 12.6s on lap 54 of 70.

At 63 laps complete, Power held 10.7s over Rossi as the gap remained stable, but the alternates on the leader’s car appeared to start losing their edge. At the start of lap 65 it was down to 9.4s as the chase was on. Power had Jack Harvey and Jimmie Johnson up ahead and Johnson was kind enough to move over at the start of lap 66 where the lead was down to 7.9s.

At the start of lap 68 Power’s lead to Rossi was cut to 6.5s with Harvey and Santino Ferrucci up ahead. With two laps to go, Rossi came within 5.1s as Ferrucci moved over for Power. The final lap began with Power holding 2.6s over Rossi.

Power won a strategy thriller as Rossi cut the lead to 1.0027s at the finish line with Rinus VeeKay ending the race in the tire barrier behind them.

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