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There has always been something magical about being a four-time winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From A.J. Foyt finally achieving his quest to become the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1977, to Al Unser joining him in 1987 and Rick Mears in 1991, the term “four-time winner at Indy” is a distinction of motorsports majesty.
The Indianapolis 500 began in 1911. By contrast, the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began more than 100 years later, in 2014.
But there are already two drivers who are attempting to become four-time winners of that race Saturday, July 4, and both drive for Team Penske.
Will Power has been one of the dominant drivers in the short history of the GMR Grand Prix. He is a three-time winner of the race on the IMS road course, with victories in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Teammate Simon Pagenaud is the only other driver who has won that contest, and he has also done in three times – in 2014 with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton, and 2016 and 2019 with Team Penske.
Power and Pagenaud are the only drivers who have won the annual NTT INDYCAR SERIES road race at IMS. There are many outstanding drivers in the field that will try to win July 4 as part of a historic INDYCAR/NASCAR tripleheader. Power confirmed a bit of a rivalry, though, between himself and Pagenaud to be the first driver to score win No. 4 in the GMR Grand Prix.
“Both Simon and I want to be the first four-time winner of that race,” Power said. “That would mean so much to be a four-time winner of the GMR Grand Prix, especially this year since it’s part of the NASCAR weekend.”
Pagenaud always will have the honor of having his name at the top of the list of GMR Grand Prix winners as the first to take the checkered flag in 2014.
“The inaugural was fun,” Pagenaud said. “The way we won it with Schmidt was very special. We won it on fuel strategy. It was extreme. People had issues on restarts, but it was a great performance for the team and for me. It really got us on the map as far as contenders for the championship.
“That was a time I really enjoyed. Having the big trophy for the inaugural race always brings me a smile when I see it.”
Pagenaud is also the most recent winner, in 2019. Both of those victories are similar because Pagenaud led just six laps in 2014 and only five last year as he battled his way to track down leader Scott Dixon for the thrilling victory in a race that started dry and ended in rain.
He passed Dixon for the lead with just two laps remaining and went on to win the race.
“It is definitely one of my most satisfying wins,” Pagenaud said. “In the dry, we were already in contention for the win before it started raining. When it is raining, that is my favorite condition to drive in. I was very excited about the rain and knew I had a shot. I drove as hard as I could. I kept it on the island. The pass on Scott Dixon at the end was very intense.
“It was hard to feel my legs on that last lap, I was so full of adrenalin. It will always be one of my favorite wins because it was in the rain and I brought another win to Menards at the Speedway. It’s very special. Perfect momentum before we got into the Indianapolis 500.”
Pagenaud’s win last year gave Team Penske five straight wins out of the six GMR Grand Prix contests so far. Of Pagenaud’s three GMR Grand Prix wins, only the 2016 victory from the pole was total domination, as he led 57 laps in the 82-lap contest.
By contrast, when Power has been victorious on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, he has been dominant.
In 2015, Power started on pole and led 65 of 82 laps. In 2017, he also started on the pole and led 61 laps in a race increased to 85 total laps. In 2018, Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet started on pole and led 56 of 85 laps.
“That’s usually how all of my victories have been there, by having the dominant car,” Power said. “It’s a racecourse where it is important to start on pole and stay up front because the track does not breed many caution periods. That means you are driving the car fast but trying to conserve fuel at the same time.
“I really love that course. There is just something about that racecourse that fits my driving style so well.”
His most recent GMR Grand Prix win in 2018 featured a fierce battle with Robert Wickens, driving for what was then known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Wickens started second and led 20 laps in a fierce battle with Power.
What made that race such a challenge, however, is both drivers also had to conserve fuel while trying to fend off the hard-charging Dixon. Power passed Wickens for the lead on Lap 51 of the 82-lap contest, but Dixon was able to run a harder pace to race his way through the field. Dixon started 18th and had no choice but to step on it to get toward the front.
Although the top seven drivers all made three pit stops in the race, the timing of Dixon’s stop came later than Power and Wickens, which allowed him to run at a faster pace with more fuel to burn.
By the time the race was over, Dixon had managed to pass Wickens for second place but finished 2.244 seconds behind Power’s Team Penske Chevrolet.
“That was a very satisfying win because it was so hard-fought,” Power said. “Robert Wickens had a lot of speed that day, and we had a great battle throughout the race. It included everything from racing hard to dealing with a slower set of tires and maintaining the lead and being out front for the shootout at the end.
“We had to save fuel and still race hard to maintain a gap from Scott Dixon, who was coming up fast from behind and that made it a very satisfying win. Any time you can win races like that as a driver, it makes for a great day.”
In 2018, Power became the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to win both the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season.
Team Penske teammate Pagenaud duplicated that feat in 2019 when he scored his third GMR Grand Prix victory and his first Indy 500 win.
“It’s one of those things that happens in sports sometimes when the same people win at the same place multiple times,” Power said. “It happened to work out for Simon and me. It’s not anything different we are doing than anyone else. But there have always been different circumstances in that race that have played out in our favor.
“We definitely learn things from each other from car setup to how to drive that racecourse. I think it’s important when teammates are able to push each other like Simon and I have at that racecourse.”
Power admits that he loves racing on the IMS road course. He compares it to some of the European road courses that he competed on throughout his career before he arrived in the Champ Car series in 2005.
“It’s a very technical type of road course, and it has a nice flow to it,” Power said. “It rewards the driver and the car setup, and those are the tracks you love to drive when you are out front all day.”
It’s smooth, technical and majestic. It’s the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and in Pagenaud’s mind, it doesn’t matter if it’s the oval or the road the course, it’s a special place to race.
“We are called INDYCAR, and racing at Indianapolis is always very special,” Pagenaud said. “Whether you turn one way or the other on that oval, it’s that place for INDYCAR. It’s magical. I think that is why that road course to me and a lot of people is the crown jewel of our series in terms of the road course.
“It’s a flat track. It’s fun to drive with good grip. The location makes it very special.”
The GMR Grand Prix is scheduled to start at noon (ET) July 4 and will be followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at 3 p.m. Both races will be televised live on NBC.
“We’re going to really need to be on top of our game to win it this year,” Power said. “But I can’t think of anything more satisfying than to drive the Verizon Chevrolet into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the fourth time in the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix.”