Will Power went from worst to first at Gateway Motorsports Park in the span of a year and moved into closer contention for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship in the process.
Charging hard from the start, Power took control over the final 100 laps of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Saturday night to pick up his third win of the season. He guided the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet across the finish line 1.3117 seconds ahead of Alexander Rossi for the 35th victory of his career and tied Bobby Unser for seventh most in Indy car history.
“We had so much speed in hand, it was kind of fun,” Power said. “I’ve never passed so many cars. You just keep knocking people off one after another.
“That’s the most fun way to go racing is when you can just go hard, you don’t have to think about lifting and being in a lean fuel slot.”
The triumph came a year after Power completed just five laps at Gateway before a crash ended his night and title hopes. Saturday’s victory lifted the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion to third in the standings and within 68 points of leader Scott Dixon, who finished third in the race. Rossi, with his third straight podium finish following a pair of wins, maintained second in the championship and crept within 26 points of Dixon with two races remaining.
Power passed Dixon for first place on Lap 150 of 248 on the 1.25-mile oval. The 37-year-old Australian then zoomed away to a gap of more than seven seconds before making his final pit stop for a splash of ethanol 18 laps from the end, surrendering the lead back to Dixon.
Power regained the lead on Lap 240 after Dixon and other drivers made their last stops for fuel. Rossi, attempting to complete the race in one less pit stop – as he did in winning the 2016 Indy 500 and four weeks ago at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, nursed his No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda home in second place for his eighth podium finish of 2018.
“It’s a mental game because you’re trying to obviously hit a fuel (mileage) number to go X amount of laps, and it was a very, very big fuel number,” Rossi said. “Unlike the (Indy) 500 in 2016, I didn’t have a teammate to tote me around, so I had to figure out how to do it myself, which was a big challenge.
“But huge hats off to (strategist) Rob Edwards and the whole (No.) 27 NAPA Andretti team for coming up with it and keeping the faith that I could manage it. It was just enough at the end. Obviously, you want to win the race, but the goal really is to beat Scott (Dixon) and we were able to do that, despite it only being a couple-point swing.”
With the victory, Power joined Dixon, Rossi and Josef Newgarden as three-time winners this season. Power swept the May races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course and 102nd Indianapolis 500 on the oval – but Saturday’s win was his first with team owner Roger Penske calling the race strategy.
“I was so happy to win my first race with Roger,” said Power, who delivered Team Penske’s 203rd win in Indy car competition and fifth in nine Gateway races. “I was just wondering when that was going to come because I didn’t get to work with him in Indy and obviously won two races there.”
Dixon led 145 laps from the pole position in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and earned his eighth top-three result of 2018. The four-time series champion has seen his lead shrink from 62 to 26 points over the past three races despite finishing in the top five each time.
“There were two different (fuel) strategies that played out, and I’m a bit mad at myself tonight for not making a decision quicker on which one to take,” Dixon said. “I’m not sure if it would have made a huge difference in the end, but it’s a solid result and we lost just a small bit to Rossi (in the standings).”
Newgarden, the reigning series champion and defending Gateway winner, finished seventh in the race and fell to fourth in the standings, 78 points behind Dixon. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, finished 20th when mechanical issues parked his No. 28 DHL Honda after 172 laps. At 147 points behind Dixon, Hunter-Reay is fifth in the standings and the only other driver with a mathematical chance to win the championship.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 2, marking Indy car racing’s return to Portland International Raceway for the first time since 2007.