INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power has yet to win an Indianapolis 500 in 10 tries, but he burnished his status as the master of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course preliminary to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ greatest race by winning the INDYCAR Grand Prix for the third time on Saturday.
The victory was as much a study in statistical nuggets as the first victory of the 2018 season for Power. It was the 200th win in Indy car history for Team Penske, which made its debut in the sport 50 years ago.
INDYCAR GRAND PRIX: Official results
Thirty of those wins have been provided by Power. For the fourth consecutive year, the race was won from the pole, all by Team Penske drivers.
“To do it here at Indianapolis is terrific,” team owner Roger Penske said. “This gives us tremendous momentum going into the (Indianapolis) 500.”
But this was no parade for Power, who dueled in the middle stretches of the race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile permanent road course with rookie Robert Wickens, and again in the final laps saving fuel and attempting to maintain a slim gap on master fuel miser Scott Dixon.
“I’ve never driven so hard for an entire race. I was 100 percent the entire time,” said Power, who crossed the finish line in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet 2.2443 seconds ahead of Dixon. “I’m exhausted.”
Power led 56 of 85 laps. He ceded the lead on a Lap 20 pit sequence and saw the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens build as much as 4.5-second lead on alternate red Firestone tires that provide more grip and therefore speed as Power utilized Firestone standard blacks, which maintain their durability longer.
Wickens, in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda, took primary tires after a Lap 41 stop, and Power alternates, using them with his push-to-pass to execute a pass for the lead on the outside coming out of Turn 1 on Lap 51. Wickens made a bid through the first two turn sequences, but Power repulsed him to run off again.
Power appeared on a glide pattern for victory until teammate, defending series champion and points leader Josef Newgarden spun off Turn 12 attempting to pass Sebastien Bourdais for third on Lap 56. The full-course caution put the entire field on the same tire and fuel program, and notorious stalker and fuel conservationist Dixon third on the restart with 25 laps left. Dixon passed Wickens for second but never seriously challenged Power.
“Wickens came in on reds and I was on blacks, and man, I’ve never driven so hard to watch a gap grow, especially when I went to the reds, then had to try and pass him back,” Power said of the tire strategy that marked his duel with Wickens. “Then I had to save a lot of fuel at the end and go fast because I knew how good Dixon is at saving fuel and going fast.”
Dixon, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, said he was surprised at the mileage Power’s Chevrolet provided.
“I was a little surprised they got the fuel mileage they did. They’ve made good gains on that,” said Dixon, whose previous best this season was fourth at ISM Raceway in Phoenix. “I was pushing as hard as I could. The car balance was a little loose in traffic. The harder I pushed to try and close the gap each time, I would just burn the rears (tires) off. I kind of had to back off and try again in that cycle. I just couldn’t close that gap that we had.”
Penske deemed Power’s effort “world class, having to make fuel at the end, staying ahead of Wickens, staying ahead of the best guy in the business, Scott Dixon.”
The finish was a repeat of a year ago when Power placed first and Dixon second. Dixon collected the 39th runner-up finish of his career (third all time) and the 97th podium finish (fifth all time).
Wickens placed third, with Bourdais fourth and Alexander Rossi fifth. A late spin relegated Newgarden to 11th place, but the Team Penske driver still holds a two-point advantage over Rossi heading into the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Wickens, who drove in the European DTM sports car series since 2012 until joining the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, said he’d never been asked to save fuel to the extent he was on Saturday.
“They were giving me a number, and I wasn’t able to hit it,” he said. “And they were like, ‘We need this,’ and I’m like: ‘I’m trying. I’m just not getting the number.’ We had to go even past that because I wasn’t able to save enough at the beginning. It was a stressful afternoon. I was really happy in the first couple of stints, but that final one with the fuel savings kind of blew it wide open.”
The 102nd Indianapolis 500 is set for Sunday, May 27 (11 a.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Practice on the famed 2.5-mile oval begins Tuesday, with two days of qualifications to set the 33-car field on May 19-20.