Power Was The Man Of The Hour At Gateway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 26 2018

Team owner Roger Penske congratulates driver Will Power after Saturday night’s IndyCar Series race near St. Louis. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Will Power went from worst-to-first at Gateway Motorsports Park in the span of a year Saturday night, and in the process, inched closer into contention for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Charging from the start, Power took control over the final 100 laps of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline to record his third win of the season. Power guided the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet across the finish line 1.3117-seconds ahead of Alexander Rossi for the 35th victory of his career, tying Bobby Unser for seventh most in Indy car history.

“We had so much speed in hand, it was kind of fun,” Power said after navigating Gateway’s 1.25-mile oval for 248 laps/310 miles. “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 win came one year after Power completed just five laps at the facility in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis, before a crash ended his night and title hopes. This victory lifted the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion to third in the standings and within 68 points of leader Scott Dixon, who finished third after starting on-pole via entrant points. With his third straight podium finish following a pair of wins, Rossi maintained second in the championship and moved to within 26 points of Dixon with two races remaining.

Power passed Dixon for first place on Lap 150 of 248. The 37-year-old Australian then opened 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 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 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,” said Rossi, of Andretti Autosport. “Unlike the (Indy) 500 in 2016, I didn’t have a teammate (Townsend Bell) 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 and we were able to do that, despite it only being a couple-point swing.”

With the victory, Power joined Dixon, Rossi and reigning series champion 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 famed 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 victory 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 pole position in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and earned his eighth top-three result of 2018. The four-time series champion has watched 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 Gateway winner last summer, finished seventh and fell to fourth in the standings, 78 points behind Dixon. “Tough night. We kept in it, we tried to make the most of it,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet. “We just lost too many positions there at the end. The whole race long, we just didn’t get the timing right. We got caught-out in a couple of different times. Will got stuck up in the gray and we lost some speed when we caught him and lost a couple of spots there. We tried to make a fuel number there at the end and it ended up biting us.

“We worked hard. We had great pit stops; the guys did a great job. We just couldn’t get the timing right tonight and had to settle for the Verizon Chevy finishing seventh. But we have a car in one piece, so we go on to Portland and try and redeem ourselves.”  

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, finished 20th when mechanical issues parked his No. 28 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.

“Really bummed to end the race from the garages,” said Hunter-Reay, also of Andretti Autosport. “We had a problem with fuel pressure _ the car just shut off on the front straight and we weren’t able to recover. It’s a shame because we were really making the No. 28 DHL Honda fly. The track just kept getting more and more grip and we were able to get more aggressive. We were just getting into the mix, the car was coming to us. We were going to fight Will for the win at the end.”

Since the first Indy car race at Gateway Motorsports Park in 1997, only Alex Zanardi (1998) and Newgarden (2017) have won this race and the championship during the same season.

“It’s going to be very tight,” said Power, alluding to the remaining championship contenders. “It’s really hard to close a gap at this point of the season because as you can see, the same guys are finishing in the top-five every week, and they’re all the guys you’re racing. I need those guys to have a bad day and for me to win a race. We’ve been so quick everywhere all year, we’ve just had…amongst the guys I’m racing, between them they’ve had one DNF. I’ve had five DNFs, basically five. I’ve had a lot to make up and we’re on the way there. Still a big chunk of points, honestly, when you’re only gaining maybe 10 or 12 a race.”

While unable to overtake Power in the final laps, the podium finishes by Rossi and Dixon were more than enough for Honda to clinch the Manufacturers’ title over Chevrolet with two races remaining.

Next on the schedule is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 2, marking Indy car racing’s return to Portland International Raceway in Oregon for the first time since 2007. The race will air live on NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens continues to be treated at Lehigh Valley Hospital- Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa., for injuries sustained during last Sunday’s INDYCAR event at Pocono Raceway.

On Saturday, Wickens reportedly was breathing unaided and speaking with members of his family. Surgeries were performed late this week on his right arm and lower extremities without complication. The extent of his spinal cord injury remains indeterminate. Wickens also underwent a series of precautionary tests that found no indication of further injury. 

Late Monday, Wickens underwent surgery to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture associated with a spinal cord injury sustained in the crash involving Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport on Lap 7 of the 200-lapper. Titanium rods and screws successfully were placed in Wickens’ spine during the surgery, which was performed without complication.

A 29-year-old Canadian and series rookie, Wickens was injured in a violent multiple-car crash on Lap 7 of the ABC Supply 500 on Pocono’s 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” layout in Long Pond, Pa. Future treatment for Wickens includes more corrective surgery and rehabilitation.

All 21 cars competing in Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., sported decals wishing Wickens a speedy and strong recovery.

Ryan Norman passed teammate Colton Herta six laps from the finish at Gateway Motorsports Park and drove on to his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires victory following a late-race duel.

Point-leader Patricio O’Ward finished third in the 75-lap race run without a caution period to give Andretti Autosport a podium sweep. O’Ward will take a 25-point lead over Herta into the doubleheader finale weekend at Portland International Raceway from Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

In the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) drove to his fifth consecutive victory and edged closer to clinching the 2018 championship. VeeKay holds a nearly insurmountable 47-point lead over Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) with only the Portland doubleheader remaining.  

Results Saturday of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 248, Running
  2. (2) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 248, Running
  3. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 248, Running
  4. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 248, Running
  5. (16) Zach Veach-R, Honda, 248, Running
  6. (14) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 248, Running
  7. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
  8. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 248, Running
  9. (13) Takuma Sato, Honda, 247, Running
  10. (7) Graham Rahal, Honda, 247, Running
  11. (21) Pietro Fittipaldi-R, Honda, 247, Running
  12. (11) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 247, Running
  13. (15) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 246, Running
  14. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 246, Running
  15. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 246, Running
  16. (18) Matheus Leist-R, Chevrolet, 246, Running
  17. (20) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 244, Running
  18. (19) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 242, Running
  19. (17) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 235, Running
  20. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 172, Mechanical
  21. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 155.644 mph

Time of Race: 1:59:30.1972

Margin of victory: 1.3117-seconds

Cautions: 2 for 16 laps

Lead changes: 10 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Dixon, Scott 1 – 59

Power, Will 60 – 62

Sato, Takuma 63 – 64

Dixon, Scott 65 – 119

Rossi, Alexander 120 – 123

Sato, Takuma 124 – 125

Dixon, Scott 126 – 149

Power, Will 150 – 230

Dixon, Scott 231 – 237

Veach, Zach 238 – 239

Power, Will 240 – 248

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 568, Rossi 542, Power 500, Newgarden 490, Hunter-Reay 421, Pagenaud 400, Wickens 391, Rahal 371, Hinchcliffe 353, Bourdais 334.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 26 2018
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