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Power Returns To ‘Really Good Spot’ In Detroit Win

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2022

Team Penske driver Will Power enjoyed his Sunday drive on Belle Isle. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

At age 41 and in his 18th INDYCAR season, Team Penske’s Will Power is channeling his inner Yogi Berra. 

Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical,” the late New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and locker room philosopher once famously observed.

“Hard to explain,” Power said after winning Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in a strategic battle of grit and wits against Alexander Rossi. “It’s hard to get to that place. I used to be there a lot often when I was younger. But, yeah, it’s just one of those zones where everything’s clicking so well, you’re 100 percent in the middle, it’s that ‘flow state.’ You can’t make a mistake. You don’t make a mistake.

“That was today. That was the race for me. In a really good spot.”

In an intriguing scenario blending tire strategy and speed, Power earned his first victory of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season by holding off a relentless Rossi. Power used a two-stop pit strategy to perfection in his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, warding off Andretti Autosport’s Rossi and his three-stop strategy. Power led 55 of 70 laps in a race that ended under caution.

Team Penske opted for the two-stop strategy in a bid to help Power gain track position on the bumpy, narrow temporary street circuit from his 16th starting position. Power drove the final 20 laps on Firestone’s alternate “red” tires, which initially provide more grip but lose traction quickly with each hot lap. Rossi, meanwhile, was on the more durable and consistent Firestone primary “black” tires for his final stint.

“Yeah, the last stint, it was good because it had such a gap,” Power said. “On the out-lap, it was really nice. You can do a bit of damage on the cold tires. I was really cognizant of not slipping the tire too much. Then just got in a rhythm and drove it really straight _ really straight. Can be very quick that way. Just a certain way you can drive when tires are like that.

“The fact that the track had rubbered so much looked after them. They never, like, dropped. I just looked after them in case there was a battle at the end. If I had to go hard at the end, I think I could have.”

Power’s win was the 41st of an INDYCAR career that began in 2005 in the Champ Car World Series and first since August 2021 on the Road Course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Power now ranks fifth on INDYCAR’s all-time wins list, one behind second generation star Michael Andretti.

And yes, Power reiterated he has approached this season _ his 14th with team-owner Roger Penske _ with a renewed sense of poise and purpose.

“I am definitely, as far as in the race goes, I certainly perfected that sort of mental place you need to be in, decision-making and such,” said Power, the 2014 series champ. “But that was there last year. It’s just that I had a lot of unfortunate things happen last year that really put me out of contention in some big races, in some races where I was top-three for sure. It wasn’t obvious.

“It looks like a big change, but it’s not a big change. I’ve had years of this. I’m so experienced at it, so I know it so well. I understand the game so well. I’m just executing as you should at my experience level. You’re getting everything right, like all the details.”

Power’s victory also was the milestone 100th for a Chevrolet engine since the purpose-built, 2.2-liter twin-turbo, direct-injected V6 powerplant era started in the series in 2012. Belle Isle also was the site for Chevrolet’s 25th (2014) and 50th (2016) wins.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile/14-turn layout to the streets of downtown Detroit in 2023, ending a 30-year run on the island.

A native of Australia, Power also returned to the series lead by three points over reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to round out the podium.

“That was a decent run for us,” Dixon said. “I feel like we were maybe a little too conservative on the opening stint (on the softer Firestone alternate “red” tires). I knew the reds were going to be fast at the start, and was probably biding my time a bit too much.

“Congratulations to Will, he drove a fantastic race.  But really happy for Honda, and to be back on the podium for them. And a great job by the No. 9 crew all day long.”

NTT P1 Award-winner Josef Newgarden finished fourth in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. Native Mexican Pato O’Ward was fifth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Teams unfurled different tire and fuel strategies almost from the drop of the green flag. Andretti Autosport called Rossi into the pits after just four laps to remove the Firestone “red” tires and bolt on the more durable “black” tires, triggering a three-stop strategy. Under series rules, all drivers must run at least one lap per race on both the primary and alternate tires.

Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing chose a different route for Power and Dixon, respectively, opting for two-stop races. But there was variety even among that option. Power started the race on primary tires and didn’t pit for a second pair of “blacks” until Lap 26. He stayed on those tires before making a mandatory switch to “reds” on Lap 51 for the final 20 laps. Dixon started on primary tires and switched to alternates on Lap 27. He made those grippy, but less durable, tires last until switching back to primaries during his second and final stop on Lap 45.

Meanwhile, Rossi had stopped for primary tires on Laps 25 and 47, completing his team’s three-stop strategy. When Power exited the pits on Lap 51 after his final stop, he led Rossi by a massive 16.079-seconds. He also had nearly twice as much of his allotted push-to-pass time left as Rossi.

The chase was on. Rossi trimmed the gap to 12.128-seconds with 10 laps left, facing the daunting challenge of making up more than 1.2-seconds per lap to catch Power, let alone pass him. A late caution period would have done that work for Rossi, who started 11th, but it never came.

Still, it appeared Rossi might catch a break with eight laps to go when Power pulled close to the No. 45 Honda of Jack Harvey, who was running at the tail end of the lead lap. Knowing the risks of trying to pass Harvey and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry on degrading alternate tires, Power wisely stayed behind the Englishman and managed the turbulence and his tires in a display of skill.

“I was getting updated every lap,” Power said. “We held the gap, the same gap for a while. When I got stuck behind Harvey, I just kind of managed that gap.” That gap tightened to 7.7-seconds with five laps left, as a steeper degradation of the alternate tires began to take its toll. With three laps remaining, Rossi had pulled to within 6.5-seconds.

With one lap to go, the gap was down to 2.8-seconds. Rossi was able to trim another 1.8-seconds on the final trip at speed around Belle Isle for the series, but the Californian ran out of laps to get close enough to make a race-winning pass.

The race ended under caution when Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands crashed on the final lap in the No. 21 Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing as the checkered flag flew above Power and Rossi. Ironically, it was the only caution of the race.

“I think one more lap would have been really interesting,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Honda. “But you’ve got to give credit to the No. 12 guys and Will. That’s hard to do at the end, to hang on. It was a good recovery from (Saturday’s qualifying). The strategy was good.”

Rossi was the top finishing Honda after starting 11th. He made the most on-track passes and turned the third-fastest lap of the race en route to his first podium of the season.

“Yet again we come here with an amazing car and can’t quite get the win,” Rossi said. “The strategy was good. I think we’re finally executing on our potential.”

Rossi is in his seventh and final campaign with the team owned by Michael Andretti, who announced Thursday he and Rossi had mutually agreed to part company after this season. Simultaneously, Arrow McLaren SP announced it had signed Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champion, to a multi-year agreement beginning with the 2023 season.

Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner, is the only driver to win a race every season with Chevrolet since the Bowtie Brand returned to INDYCAR competition in 2012.

Sunday’s victory came a year after heartbreak in this event for Power. He led late in the first race of the Belle Isle doubleheader when the event was red-flagged due to an accident. However, Power’s car would not refire in the pits when the race resumed, handing the lead to eventual winner Ericsson. A furious Power exited his car and publicly vented over an uncharacteristic unforced Team Penske error.

“It’s just redemption from last year,” Power said. “I was just waiting for something to happen those last 10 laps, but I just stayed laser-focused.

“I’m not disappointed with bad results anymore. It is what it is. That’s one thing that has changed with me. I really don’t care. I don’t have to put anything more ‘up on the board.’ I could stop right now. I don’t have to. So, I haven’t got that pressure. I just don’t care anymore. I’m just enjoying it.

“I massively care about my craft. I want to do it absolutely properly. But I don’t care for a bad result because it is a part of the game. That’s one thing that has changed me because I’ve learned that’s not fair. Yes, it is. I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing, just extremely lucky, just fortunate that I’m in this position to race cars and get paid for it. It’s insane. Compared to what you could be doing. It can always be worse, no matter. It just can. Just lucky.

“Honestly, I just think it’s just getting older. You know you’re not going to be around. Once you’ve been on this earth for 40 years, ‘Well, that went pretty quick!’ So, the next 20 of being able to do stuff is going to go real fast. So, who cares? Enjoy it. Enjoy it. That’s it. It gets faster and faster. It’s ridiculous, the years.”

Next event on the series calendar is Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Live coverage starts at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Team Chevy certainly will miss competing on The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The 2.35-mile/14-turn course on the island between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, Canada was the site of another milestone victory Sunday. Will Power’s win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was the manufacturer’s 100th since returning to the IndyCar Series with its 2.2-liter V6 engine in 2012.

INDYCAR first competed on the temporary circuit on June 7, 1992, when Bobby Rahal defeated Raul Boesel of Brazil in an event sanctioned by the Championship Auto Racing Teams.

“We will always remember this last race on Belle Isle,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president Performance and Motorsports. “One hundred wins in a little more than 10 years in a very competitive series is a pretty incredible achievement. And it happened in our very own backyard, in front of so many Chevrolet vehicle owners, employees and supporters. This one is special.

“I’d like to thank all of the Chevrolet engineers, our partners at Ilmor and all of the drivers, crew chiefs, teams and owners who have contributed to all of those wins over the past decade.”

Chevrolet’s 100 wins occurred over 170 races. Team Chevy’s first win in this era occurred in its first race back in the series on March 25, 2012, by Helio Castroneves of Team Penske at St. Petersburg, Fla.

Power leads all Chevy drivers with 26 wins from 2012-2022. Chevrolet has won five of the first seven races to start 2022, and leads the Manufacturers Standings over OEM rival Honda, 595-542.

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Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist took a second dip in the iconic James Scott Memorial Fountain to celebrate a sweep Sunday of the Indy Lights Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.

Lundqvist led all 30 laps of the Indy Lights event on The Raceway at Belle Isle Park from pole in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car. He won both Indy Lights races this weekend in Detroit and has won three consecutive races this season.

Pole-sitter Lundqvist also led all 25 laps in Saturday’s race. Sunday’s win was his fourth Indy Lights victory in six races this season, surpassing his entire total of three from 2021. He leads the championship standings by 84 points _ more than a race-worth of points _ over teammate Benjamin Pedersen.

In addition to winning twice from pole and leading every lap, Lundqvist also turned the fastest lap in both races. “What a couple of races we’ve done,” said Lundqvist, 23. “I’m super-happy and proud of this team. I think we showed up here. In Practice 1, I wasn’t feeling it but we just built up to it. We got a good car, and it got the most out of myself.”

Lundqvist led second-place finisher Hunter McElrea to the finish line by 3.7005-seconds. McElrea was the highest-finishing rookie in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport car. Fellow Andretti Autosport driver Sting Ray Robb rounded out the podium, finishing third in the No. 2 Sekady car.

St. Petersburg winner Matthew Brabham finished fourth in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport machine, and IMS road-course Race 1 winner Danial Frost rounded out the top five in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car.

Lundqvist couldn’t be stopped Sunday, often stretching his lead to more than five seconds before two cautions bunched the field onto his gear box. The first yellow flew on Lap 9 when Lundqvist’s teammate, Christian Bogle, wiggled in Turn 13 and corrected his No. 7 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car hard into the outside wall. Bogle was unhurt and credited with 14th.

Heartbreak and frustration continued to follow Andretti Autosport rookie Christian Rasmussen. While running third on Lap 19, 2021 Indy Pro 2000 champion Rasmussen carried too much speed entering Turn 5. Unable to slow the car to make the corner, he made hard contact with the outside wall in the No. 28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht machine for the day’s second caution.

His dominating performance has cemented Lundqvist’s status as favorite to win the 2022 Indy Lights championship and secure the NTT IndyCar Series scholarship.

Lundqvist is boasting an average finish of second after six races. His worst finish is fifth, in Race 1 of the IMS road-course doubleheader. Lundqvist is putting up numbers better through the first six races than 2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood last season. Now an IndyCar Series rookie with AJ Foyt Racing, Kirkwood had one win and an average finish of 4.1 before scoring a record-tying 10 wins and the series title.

“It’s fairly early still, and we still haven’t reached halfway in the championship,” Lundqvist said. “It’s all a bit early to think about that. We’re here to win races. That’s what we enjoy, and that’s also the best way to win a championship.”

Indy Lights returns to action Sunday, June 12, at Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wis., alongside the NTT IndyCar Series. Live coverage of the seventh Indy Lights race of 2022 will begin at 10:35 a.m. (EDT) on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Results of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.35-mile/14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (16) Will Power, Chevrolet, 70, Running
    2. (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 70, Running
    3. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 70, Running
    4. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 70, Running
    5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 70, Running
    6. (18) Alex Palou, Honda, 70, Running
    7. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 70, Running
    8. (7) Colton Herta, Honda, 70, Running
    9. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 70, Running
    10. (25) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 70, Running
    11. (6) David Malukas, Honda, 70, Running
    12. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 70, Running
    13. (2) Takuma Sato, Honda, 70, Running
    14. (19) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 70, Running
    15. (20) Jack Harvey, Honda, 70, Running
    16. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 69, Contact
    17. (12) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 69, Running
    18. (21) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 69, Running
    19. (10) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 69, Running
    20. (26) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 69, Running
    21. (17) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 68, Running
    22. (22) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 68, Running
    23. (24) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 68, Running
    24. (15) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 49, Contact
    25. (4) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 21, Mechanical
    26. (23) Graham Rahal, Honda, 2, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 107.111 mph
Time of Race: 01:32:08.8183
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 1 for 1 lap
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders
Newgarden, Josef 1 – 13
Power, Will 14 – 24
Dixon, Scott 25
Palou, Alex 26
Power, Will 27 – 70

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10): 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 255; 2, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 252; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 243; 4, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 241; 5, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 208; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 202; 7, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 181; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 179; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 174; 10, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 173.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing). 

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2022
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