Will Power left everything out on the racetrack in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Sunday, April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Two-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Power delivered a monstrous drive over the last 30 of 90 laps to finish third. Muddled around his starting position of 11th during the early part of the race, he caught on to the pace being set by rivals opting for a fuel-saving, two-stop strategy. In response, he chose the opposite route, pitting three times and pushing to extract the maximum pace around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course.
“Yeah, in the first stint when I saw everyone saving fuel about eight to 10 laps in,” Power said. “I said to the guys: ‘Maybe we should switch to a three-stopper here. Do you want me to push?’ It was the best thing to do at that time.”
The strategy proved especially favorable after a caution on Lap 39, moments after Power’s second pit stop. There was one issue, though: He was still stuck in traffic and mired in the back end of the top 10.
Then came the surge.
On Lap 59, the Aussie was 19.298 seconds behind leader Romain Grosjean. When Grosjean pitted the following lap, Scott McLaughlin inherited the lead and had an 18.5-second advantage over Power. That gap was cut to 16.341 seconds when Power delivered the fastest lap of the race – on Lap 62 – at 1 minute, 7.8022 seconds, which ended up being .4421 of a second quicker than the next-quickest time of the day (Josef Newgarden, 1:08.2443). McLaughlin darted to pit lane the following lap, leaving Power with a clear track and a chance to make up considerable ground.
Running eighth before the final sequence of pit stops, Power leapfrogged to third after getting his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet serviced for the last time on Lap 66, swapping sticker alternate (red sidewall) Firestone tires for a set of used – scuff – alternates. With 21 laps to go, he trailed the leaders by 10.5 seconds and only had 33 seconds of push-to-pass remaining.
The unrelenting pace of Power continued as he was 4.179 seconds off the lead on Lap 80 and poised for an attack on Grosjean, who was running second. In the end, though, Power’s tires had nothing left to give to mount a proper challenge as he finished behind Grosjean and 3.2699 seconds behind winner McLaughlin for the 95th podium of his INDYCAR SERIES career.
“Yeah, it worked out well,” Power said of the three-stop strategy. “We had a very fast car. Any time we had clear air, we were pumping out some seriously quick times. During that last sequence is where we gained a ton of track position. I was able to do 67s in the last few laps.
“Yeah, using the tires up. As soon as I started getting Romain's dirty air, he was doing a really good job of sort of saving fuel and also getting big exits, not making mistakes. I did everything I could to get to him, and I just couldn't get there.”
Last year at Barber Motorsports Park, Power was thrust into the two-stop strategy and went from 19th to fourth. After getting the opportunity to be in attack mode this time around, it was more to his liking.
“It's a lot more fun when you get to just go all out, qualifying laps every lap,” Power said. “I really enjoy that sort of racing. I have to say what he (Grosjean) did is extremely difficult and technical. To finish 20 seconds ahead of the next guy (on a two-stop strategy) is pretty impressive.”
The physical nature of pushing to the limit, especially at a circuit that features 80 feet of elevation change, could wear out some of the best drivers in the business. However, Power appeared fresh and ready to go again, all while mocking his 42-year-old self.
“It's always tough, the first 15 laps (or) 10 laps,” Power said. “Then, your muscles settle in, and you're good to go. But yeah, I was able to push the whole way. Still fit for an old bloke.”
Now, the “old bloke” sits seventh in the championship standings, 26 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson (130-104). Additionally, the rise in form comes at the perfect time as North America’s premier open wheel championship heads to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where Power has won at five times, with three of those in the May edition with the GMR Grand Prix.
“It's good for the whole group on the car,” Power said. “Obviously, mentally for yourself, it's a very positive thing. Everything's heading in the right direction.”
There’s also the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge looming May 28.
“Indy is a very, very different animal in terms of the ‘500,’” said Power, who won the 2018 Indy 500. “Obviously, you have the Grand Prix before that. But, yeah, the ‘500’ is a very standalone, tough, unique event. Yeah, we're hoping to be in the game this year. We've been pretty disappointed with the performance the last few years.
“We'll wait and see. You don't say anything. We've done a lot of work.”