Will Power and Team Penske appear to be waltzing away to this year’s IZOD IndyCar Championship.
After taking his third pole of the year Power drove a perfect race on the street circuit in Sao Paulo on Sunday to score his third win in a row and establish a big lead in IndyCar’s Championship from team-mate Helio Castroneves, the only other driver to win a race so far this year. In fact, at this early stage of the season Team Penske is enjoying its most dominant year on record because this is the first time in 40 years Penske has run a full-time Indycar team and they’ve won the year’s opening four races.
“Full credit to Team Penske and the Chevy guys,” Power said. “These guys make it possible and we did it three for three. That was a good race, a great race and more good strategy by the team and the boys did a great job on the pit stops.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay challenged Power on the last two restarts and was able to finish a strong second, thus making the podium for the third time this year. Hunter-Reay drives for Michael Andretti’s team of course with Chevrolet engines like Team Penske.
A rousing third place was taken by Takuma Sato who passed Dario Franchitti with an aggressive move on the second-last restart to earn his first podium of the year. Sato started the race from the back of the grid after a broken gearbox meant he missed making a qualifying run. Sato drives this year for Bobby Rahal’s revitalised Rahal Letterman Lanigan team with Honda engines.
“I’m really excited,” Sato grinned. “It’s fantastic to come from the back of the grid to finish third. That’s not too bad! It’s been an adventure. The first three races we couldn’t finish the race and here we finally have a result.”
Franchitti enjoyed his most competitive race of the year to date, qualifying on the outside of the front row beside Power and chasing vainly after the Australian until he was knocked into a spin by Mike Conway on a restart early in the race. Rejoining at the tail of the field Franchitti drove an excellent race aided by equally first-class strategy and pit work. He recovered to finish an encouraging fifth behind Hunter-Reay, Sato and Castroneves and at this stage Dario is 10th in the championship 98 points behind leader Power.
“We were up there,” Dario commented. “We definitely couldn’t get the fuel mileage that the Chevys could get, but I think on pace we were pretty good. Unfortunately I got tipped into that spin at the first chicane and that put us back to last. But we did something with the strategy and we were fighting our way back through.
“On one restart Takuma did a banzai move down the inside and I didn’t want to crash so I gave him the corner. And on the last restart I got quite loose coming out of the last turn and almost spun. So the last two restarts weren’t the best but we had a much better weekend than we’ve had so far this season. The Target boys did a good job and our car was quick.”
Franchitti wasn’t enraged with Conway for hitting and spinning him early in the race. “You’re always upset when you get spun out like that,” Dario remarked. “But did he do it on purpose? No, I don’t think so. Absolutely not. You concertina up so quickly in that braking zone and there was definitely a lot of people being very aggressive there. I was surprised we all made it through on the first lap to be honest.”
Last week IndyCar denied a protest from Chevrolet of a new ruling permitting Honda to run a larger inlet cover as per IndyCar’s rules aimed at ‘leveling the playing field’ if any manufacturer achieves a small advantage in performance. But at this stage of the season Chevrolet’s new twin turbo V6 IndyCar engine, designed by veteran Ilmor engineer Steve Miller, has the legs on the competition from Honda’s single turbo engine and the Lotus/Judd twin turbo. So for the first time in many years Roger Penske’s team appears to have found a small but useful ‘unfair advantage’ although Honda believes its single turbo will prove better suited than a twin turbo to the sustained high speeds at the giant, four-cornered Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Next for IndyCar is the month of May at Indianapolis where Power will be trying to score his first win and Team Penske will be chasing their 16th Indy 500 victory. Qualifying at the Speedway takes place on May 19/20 with the 96th running of America’s oldest race scheduled for May 27.