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Power Goes From Down Under To Up Top in IndyCar

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 12 2022

Will Power heads down The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca en route to a second IndyCar Series championship on Sunday. (Photo by Jake Galstad/LAT for Chevy Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A long, long way from Toowoomba, Australia, Will Power spent the weekend securing his INDYCAR legacy during the 2022 season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Power, of Team Penske, survived varying tire strategies and challenges from four title rivals Sunday to finish third and clinch his second NTT IndyCar Series championship. On Saturday, Power set the series record for poles with his fifth of the season and overall 68th _ breaking a tie with open-wheel icon Mario Andretti.

“Yeah, what a great weekend all around,” said Power, 41, who hoisted his first Astor Challenge Cup for team-owner Roger Penske in 2014. “I couldn’t really enjoy the pole because I was so focused on the race. A lot of stress. A lot of stress this weekend. Not really any other…I was pretty calm all year. Once I got in the car and we started rolling, it was fine. A bit sketchy in the middle of the race. I was digging deep, just, ‘I’ve got to give everything I can. I can’t lose any position here,’ and the car was…the tires, yeah, it was interesting. Some sets of tires were really good, and some were not quite so good. A bit of a difference there.

“But yep, mentally drained. Couldn’t show the sort of emotion that I showed when I won the (2018 Indianapolis) 500. But it’s been like a long journey over the year. I think it’s pretty fitting that we just did another solid day, just a sort of long-game day like today. That’s just been the story of our year.”

Power, 41, won just one race this season but Sunday’s podium was his series-leading 12th top-five finish in 17 races _ three more than any other driver. Of note, Power and 42-year-old Scott Dixon _ the six-time series champ from Chip Ganassi Racing _ were the only drivers to finish every lap this season.

“Man, I had to drive the thing today,” said Power, referring to his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “It was on the edge, very loose. Man, what a relief. What a relief to get that done.”

Will Power hoists the 2022 IndyCar Series championship trophy (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)

This was the 17th INDYCAR championship by a Team Penske driver, extending the organization’s open-wheel brilliance. Power finished 16 points in front of teammate/two-time series champ Josef Newgarden.

“From the beginning (of the season), it was just playing the long game, not necessarily going for the big wins and all that,” said Power, named after great-grandfather William Steven Power, who raced motorcycles Down Under.

“Just so fortunate to drive for such a team, being given the chance to do this,” said Power, alluding to a full-time tenure that began with Team Penske in 2010. “A lot of gratitude. A lot of gratitude to the team and the sponsors, Verizon. Very lucky.”

For the record, the distance from Power’s native Toowoomba to California’s Monterey Peninsula is approximately 11,467-kilometers, or 7,125-plus miles.

Palou’s reign as series champion ended with his first victory of 2022 in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, dominating the race and beating Newgarden to the checkered flag by a massive 30.3812-seconds. It was the largest margin of victory this season by more than 24-seconds. Palou delivered the win after a tumultuous summer marked by a still-unresolved contractual dispute for his driving services next season between Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren Racing.

The Spaniard’s win also came in spite of a six-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after qualifying Saturday, dropping Palou from fifth to 11th on the grid.

“We struggled a bit (at) some races, especially the last couple of races,” said Palou, standing a few feet in front of but not acknowledging team-owner Ganassi in Victory Circle. “But today was awesome. Strategy was on-point. It’s good to finish a season with a win. We had some power there and good fuel mileage.”

Palou first took the lead on Lap 16 and went on to pace 67 of 95 laps in a race slowed by just three cautions. Palou’s gap over second-place Power was 8.6287-seconds on Lap 50. But Palou rocketed away during the second half of the race as rivals began to employ varying tire and pit strategies. Palou used Firestone’s alternate (red) tires only from Laps 20 to 38 and then blitzed the field on Firestone’s primary (black) tires on the slick and highly-abrasive surface of Laguna Seca’s famed 2.238-mile/11-tun circuit.

By Lap 62, Palou’s gap over Power was a comfortable 20-seconds. “We struggled a bit during the whole weekend, and I don’t know what happened today,” said Palou, who won three races last year en route to the title. “But everything clicked. Super-happy to win a race this year.”

Newgarden started the day second in the standings, 21 points behind Power, who earned a bonus point for the NTT P1 Award Saturday. Newgarden faced long odds bidding for a third championship due to starting 25th in the 26-car field after spinning off-track in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet during the first round of qualifying.

But Newgarden never quit, starting the race on Firestone’s primary tires _ the opposite approach of title rivals Power, Dixon and CGR’s Marcus Ericsson _ and also made one more pit stop than Power in an attempt to use fresher tires and a full-bore fuel mixture to gain track position. That strategy nearly worked. Newgarden exited the pits on Lap 36 on new Firestone primary tires and started inhaling rivals, flashing frightening closing speed entering the track’s signature “Corkscrew” turn complex.

Newgarden passed the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of native Mexican Pato O’Ward for fourth on Lap 43 in the “Corkscrew” and repeated that move one lap later for third, passing the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden.

Power was next on the hit list. Newgarden sailed past his teammate on Lap 46 at the top of the “Corkscrew” for second. But Power didn’t panic, focusing on the long view while doing title arithmetic at 175 mph. “I just knew I had to absolutely get the most out of those stints and not lose any more positions,” Power said.

Newgarden had no chance to catch Palou, up by seven seconds just four laps after a Lap 41 restart. The top three cars held station for the rest of the race, sealing the title for Power.

“Even (Saturday), with the heartache there, we came back, we fought and we nearly got there,” said Newgarden, the series champ in 2017 and 2019. “I’m proud of the effort. I’m overwhelmingly proud of our team. We came up short in the No. 2 car, but at the end of the day the team excelled tremendously this year. Outside of Indianapolis, I don’t think there’s a team that was in touching distance to Team Penske.

“I’m filled with a lot of pride because I think the world of everybody on this team, not just the No. 2 car, but everyone on the No. 12, everyone on the No. 3 (of Scott McLaughlin). We’re all very close. I’m sad for the No. 2 car crew but I’m also elated for the No. 12 car crew because there’s a lot of really good people there. And really, a win for one car is a win for all of us.

“Obviously, we’re all competitive and we want to personally be the winners. But when we win as a team, it’s big for everybody. We’re going to come back stronger next year.”

Dixon placed third in the standings, 39 points behind Power, after his 12th-place finish in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“As a group effort, everybody did a hell of a job this season,” said Dixon, the New Zealander who was trying to match open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt Jr.’s record of seven championships. “We finished every lap this year which is definitely a huge milestone in itself. That’s kudos to the team but also to our partners, too, with Honda and HPD and the effort that goes into making it all possible.

“We’ll keep after it and we know exactly what we need to do in the offseason. Massive thanks to NTT and everyone involved, big thank to PNC Bank and everybody on this team who have worked so hard across all four teams. Congratulations to Alex on winning the last race. He did a hell of a job and it was good to see that side of the team get a win.”

Fellow-New Zealander McLaughlin placed fourth overall in just his second season of open-wheel racing after a sixth-place finish in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

“We were doing our best for the team there and just covering Dixon,” said Scotty Mac, a three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion who received a multi-year contract extension from Team Penske last week. “Covering our bases just so we wouldn’t get jumped by Ganassi and stuff. The XPEL car was so good, and the Chevy power was awesome. Great car _ fantastic _ and we just picked them up one at a time and got to fourth in the points on the last lap. Really awesome!”

Ericsson, the reigning Indy 500 champion, completed his best NTT IndyCar season fifth in points after placing ninth in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“It was a tough race,” said Ericsson, a native of Sweden who took over the championship lead by earning double-points with his Indy 500 win on May 29. “We fought hard out there and gave everything but just not good enough. A very disappointing end of the season. Proud of the No. 8 car crew and Chip Ganassi Racing, they’ve done a tremendous job all year. Big thanks to them and congrats to Alex on the win.”

Christian Lundgaard of Denmark secured series Rookie of the Year honors via his fifth-place finish in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Lundgaard ended with an 18-point advantage over Chicagoan David Malukas, who finished 13th in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

“Now there is another goal to set for next year,” said Lundgaard, 21. “It was a long, tough race. I’m just happy. Honestly, it’s pretty rewarding.”

Palou will split $10,000 with his Chip Ganassi Racing team and chosen charity as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.

Christian Rasmussen finished his rookie season with a flag-to-flag victory in the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 2 on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Rasmussen, a native of Denmark, earned his second victory of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season in the No. 28 entry fielded by Andretti Autosport. He started on-pole and led all 35 laps after finishing second in the first race of the weekend doubleheader Saturday.

“It was awesome to end the season like this,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been a tough one for us. We started out at St. Pete running out of fuel from a win. To end it like this on a high note, with second place in Race 1 and first place in Race 2, is awesome.”

Rasmussen entered the 2022 Indy Lights season after winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2020 and the Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires title in 2021. His other victory this season was scored in June at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

“We’re looking to come back next year,” Rasmussen said. “Hopefully we can continue on what we ended on here and compete for a championship.”

Sting Ray Robb finished 0.8893-seconds behind teammate Rasmussen in the No. 2 Sekady car to complete a strong final weekend. Robb earned his first career victory Saturday.

Australian Matthew Brabham completed a podium sweep for Andretti Autosport in the team’s No. 83 car, passing newly crowned 2022 season champion Linus Lundqvist of Sweden for that spot with a brave, side-by-side move in the famous “Corkscrew” complex on Lap 4 of the 35-lapper.

Lundqvist, meanwhile, celebrated his first full day as Indy Lights champion by finishing fourth in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car. Lundqvist clinched the title by finishing sixth Saturday and ended with a 575-483 advantage over runner-up Robb in the standings.

Jacob Abel finished fifth in the No. 51 Abel Speedwagon car, backing up the fourth-place finish Saturday that tied his career-best in the series.

Hunter McElrea finished seventh to clinch the series’ Rookie of the Year title despite problems with the push-to-pass system in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry. McElrea placed fourth in the standings with 460 points, 20 ahead of rookie runner-up Rasmussen.

Rasmussen bolted ahead of the field at the start and controlled the gap to Robb, who started third, for the entire race. The margin between the two drivers varied from six-tenths-of-a-second to about 1.2- seconds throughout, usually hovering around the one-second mark. Robb tried to make a final charge on the last lap around the 2.238-mile/11-turn permanent road-course, but Rasmussen protected the point en route to victory.

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 (1995) 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, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

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Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.238-mile/11-turn WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (11) Alex Palou, Honda, 95, Running
    2. (25) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 95, Running
    3. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 95, Running
    4. (8) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 95, Running
    5. (16) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 95, Running
    6. (7) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 95, Running
    7. (4) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 95, Running
    8. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 95, Running
    9. (9) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 95, Running
    10. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 95, Running
    11. (18) Colton Herta, Honda, 95, Running
    12. (13) Scott Dixon, Honda, 95, Running
    13. (6) David Malukas, Honda, 94, Running
    14. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 94, Running
    15. (20) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 94, Running
    16. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 94, Running
    17. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 94, Running
    18. (19) Graham Rahal, Honda, 94, Running
    19. (12) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 94, Running
    20. (21) Jack Harvey, Honda, 94, Running
    21. (17) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 94, Running
    22. (26) Simona De Silvestro, Chevrolet, 94, Running
    23. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 94, Running
    24. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 93, Running
    25. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 93, Running
    26. (2) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 37, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 103.277 mph
Time of Race: 2:03:31.0628
Margin of victory: 30.3812-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 7 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders
Power, Will 1 – 14
Ilott, Callum 15
Palou, Alex 16 – 18
Rosenqvist, Felix 19 – 23
Power, Will 24 – 26
Palou, Alex 27 – 67
Newgarden, Josef 68 – 72
Palou, Alex 73 – 95

Final 2022 NTT IndyCar Series point-standings _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 560; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 544; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 521; 4, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 510; 5, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 510; 6, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 506; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 480; 8, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 393; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 381; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 381; 11, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 345; 12, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 331; 13, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 328; 14, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 323; 15, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 314; 16, David Malukas, Dale Coyne Racing with HMD, 305; 17, Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter Racing, 267; 18, Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing, 263; 19, Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, 258; 20, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, 219; 21, Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 214; 22, Jack Harvey, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 209; 23, Devlin DeFrancesco, Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, 206; 24, Kyle Kirkwood, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, 183; 25, Dalton Kellett, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, 133; 26, Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing, 78; 27, Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing, 75; 28, Santino Ferrucci, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, 71; 29, Tatiana Calderon, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, 58; 30, JR Hildebrand, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, 53; 31, Juan Pablo Montoya, Arrow McLaren SP, 44; 32, Simona DeSilvestro, Paretta Autosport, 34; 33, Marco Andretti, Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb, 17; 34, Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, 14; 35, Stefan Wilson, DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports, 10. 

Results Sunday of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Race 2 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event on the 2.238-mile/11-turn WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Northern California, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (1) Christian Rasmussen, 35, Running
    2. (3) Sting Ray Robb, 35, Running
    3. (5) Matthew Brabham, 35, Running
    4. (2) Linus Lundqvist, 35, Running
    5. (8) Jacob Abel, 35, Running
    6. (4) Benjamin Pedersen, 35, Running
    7. (6) Danial Frost, 35, Running
    8. (9) Hunter McElrea, 35, Running
    9. (11) Nolan Siegel, 35, Running
    10. (12) Christian Bogle, 35, Running
    11. (13) Flinn Lazier, 35, Running
    12. (10) Kyffin Simpson, 35, Running
    13. (7) Ernie Francis Jr., 35, Running

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 101.566 mph
Time of Race: 46:16.3888
Margin of victory: 0.8893-seconds
Cautions: None
Lead changes: None

Lap Leaders
Rasmussen, Christian 1 – 35

Final 2022 Indy Lights Point Standings: 1, Linus Lundqvist, 575; 2, Sting Ray Robb, 483; 3, Matthew Brabham, 471; 4, Hunter McElrea, 460; 5, Benjamin Pedersen, 443; 6, Christian Rasmussen, 440; 7 Danial Frost, 382; 8, Jacob Abel, 355; 9, Kyffin Simpson, 312; 10, Ernie Francis Jr., 299; 11, Christian Bogle, 298; 12, James Roe, 219; 13, Antonio Serravalle, 204; 14, Ryan Phinny, 77; 15, Flinn Lazier, 54; 16, Manuel Sulaiman, 48; 17, Nolan Siegel, 42.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 12 2022
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