A ten-spot grid penalty for changing an engine and varying pit strategies would not stop Penske Racing’s Will Power from winning his second-straight IZOD IndyCar Series event (and 17th of his career) on Sunday at the 38th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
With the victory, Power took the points lead from teammate Helio Castroneves as the series goes to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the next race – a race that Power won in 2010 and 2011.
Power, Castroneves, and the other nine Chevrolet-powered teams had to have precautionary engine changes before the race due to problems during testing earlier in the week. This comes with a 10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine changes before the mileage limit of 1,850 miles is met.
For Power, who qualified second before the penalty, would have to, once again, battle from deep in the field to win, after starting ninth at Barber Motorsports Park and driving to victory.
The main beneficiaries of the penalties were the Honda-powered teams. Three-time defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti in his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing car started on pole and rookie Josef Newgarden in his Sarah Fisher/Hartman Racing car started on the outside.
On the initial start, Newgarden tried to pass Franchitti on the outside of turn one, but the two would make contact and Newgarden hit the wall and his race was finished on the spot. On the ensuing restart, Franchitti’s day would go south; with Justin Wilson taking the lead with a similar move to Newgarden. Fellow Honda drivers Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato passed and the race was on.
Varying pit strategies altered the race leader board, as most of the Honda drivers went for three-stop strategies, to run faster without saving fuel and to use more sets of alternate red tires for better grip. The Chevy teams used fuel conservation to move up, and Power was the main driver who benefitted.
While Power pitted with most of the Honda drivers on a Lap 22 caution for Sebastian Bourdais hitting the tire barrier in turn nine, team strategist Tim Cindric asked his driver to save fuel so they could make the rest of the distance on one stop. The pace of the Verizon Team Penske car was on display as well, with solid overtaking moves throughout, even in fuel-saving mode.
A crash on Lap 23 involving American’s Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti in turn eight knocked both drivers out of the race and helped Power save enough fuel to make the strategy work. Andretti would launch over the back of Rahal’s car and almost flip over before landing on his tires in the run-off area.
Once the race restarted on Lap 29, the remainder of the 85-lap race ran under green-flag conditions, helping those drivers who were on two-stop strategies, like Power. Pagenaud (26) and Sato (16) would combine to lead the most laps on the day, but both would fall back due to an extra pit stop. Power would make his second and final stop on Lap 54.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing’s Sato would make his final stop on Lap 55, having to stretch his final stint to 30 laps. Pagenaud’s only chance at victory was to draw enough of a gap on the field before getting a splash-and-go late in the race. The Schmidt/Hamilton Racing driver would bring his car in with 16 laps remaining.
Power would pass Sato on the track, while in fuel-saving mode and pull away. Pagenaud, a former teammate of Power in the Champ Car days, put his head down and ran laps over a second faster than the leaders for the final stint, but he ran out of time. Sato was spun out of third place on the final lap by Hunter-Reay, earning Hunter-Reay a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact, dropping the American to sixth in the final running order.
Behind Power and Pagenaud on the podium was James Hinchcliffe, who scored a career-best finish after finishing fourth last year at Long Beach. Tony Kanaan would finish fourth and JR Hildebrand would finish fifth, to give Chevrolet four of the top five positions. Positions 6-10 were Hunter-Reay, provisional pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe, Sato, Rubens Barrichello and Wilson.
Power’s lead over Castroneves in the Championship is 24 points, with Pagenaud a further three points behind in third. Scott Dixon fell to fourth, four behind Pagenaud, after having mechanical problems with his Target/Chip Ganassi Honda machine. Hinchcliffe rounds out the top five, a further point behind Dixon.