Team Penske employed keen strategy and excellent pit work so that Will Power came from 12th on the grid to score his second IndyCar win in a row this year.
Power emerged from the final round of pit stops with a handsome lead and was able to conserve fuel and preserve a small cushion to second-placed Simon Pagenaud who also drove a great race. The Frenchman led 26 laps, more than anyone else, and looked a likely winner only to be beaten by Penske’s better pit work. In the final laps Pagenaud closed rapidly on Power cutting the margin from 12 seconds to under just one at the finish.
“I’ve been trying to win this race for four years,” Power said. “I’ve been on pole and led the race but just couldn’t put it together. Compliments to Chevrolet for giving me a great engine and excellent fuel mileage. It was the most passes I’ve made in a long time. It was good racing.”
Power last won at Long Beach in 2008, the final Champ Car race on the California street circuit, while Penske’s last win at Long Beach came in 2001 with Helio Castroneves. Power was one of 11 Chevrolet-powered cars in the field who had to accept a penalty of 10 places on the grid after Chevrolet and Ilmor engineers decided to change all their engines following an engine failure in one of their cars during testing the previous week.
“This was a very sweet victory because I’ve been on pole here in 2009, ‘10 and ‘11 and it just frustrated me that every year something would happen and I couldn’t win,” Power commented. “I thought that starting 12th that it was impossible to win. But I pushed hard all the time, made no mistakes and had great strategy. It was a great team effort.
“I think it came down to a good call for the first stop and we obviously had to save some fuel throughout the whole race. At the end I was very aware of Simon’s strategy. We saved enough fuel to be able to push for the last two laps. I had to run as hard as I possibly could at getting a good lap time with very good fuel mileage. That was the key to the race.”
Pagenaud drives a Honda-powered car for Sam Schmidt’s one-car team and the Frenchman used a more aggressive three-stop strategy compared to Power’s two stops. “We ran as hard as we could most of the way,” Pagenaud said. “We tried not to save fuel and push as hard as possible.
“Our engineers have been doing a lot of development and the fact that we’re a one-car team is not a bad thing because they’re very focused on my car and everything I ask for I get. It’s taking us a little bit longer than those guys with three cars because we don’t have as much data as teams like Penske, Andretti and Ganassi.”
Third place was taken by James Hinchcliffe in one of Andretti Autosports three Chevy-powered cars as the Chevrolet teams recovered from their penalties to take six of the top seven places. “Ultimately it came down to the Andretti guys making the best calls,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s great to have such a cool team behind you, supporting you and making the right decisions. That’s what makes IndyCar so cool because you can start 16th and still have a crack at winning if you get your strategy right.”
Dario Franchitti started the race from pole and led the opening four laps but his car’s handling rapidly deteriorated and he faded to finish a distant 15th, three laps behind winner Power. Justin Wilson started one of Dale Coyne’s Honda-powered cars from the second row and took the lead from Franchitti on lap five. Justin pulled away and led 15 laps before slow pit work and less-than-ideal pit strategy left him with a 10th place finish.
After three races Power leads the IZOD Indycar Series with 127 points followed by team-mate Helio Castroneves (103), Pagenaud (100), Scott Dixon (96) and Hinchcliffe (95).