In an intriguing race that blended strategy and speed, Will Power earned his first victory of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, holding off Alexander Rossi to win the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Sunday.
Power used a two-stop strategy to perfection in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, warding off a charging Rossi – on a three-stop strategy in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Power led 55 of 70 laps in a race that ended under caution.
Team Penske opted for the different strategy to try to help Power gain track position on the bumpy, narrow temporary street circuit from his 16th starting position. Power drove the final 20 laps on Firestone alternate “red” tires, which initially have more grip but lose traction quickly with time. Rossi was on the more durable and consistent Firestone primary “black” tires for his final stint.
Teams unfurled different tire and fuel strategies almost from the drop of the green flag.
Andretti Autosport called Rossi to the pits after just four laps to remove the Firestone “red” tires and affix the more durable “black” tires, choosing a three-stop strategy. All drivers must run at least one lap per race on both the primary and alternate tires, per NTT INDYCAR SERIES rules.
Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing chose a different route for Power and Dixon, respectively, opting for two-stop races. But there was variety even among that option.
Power started the race on primary tires and didn’t pit for a second pair of “blacks” until Lap 26. He stayed on those tires before making a mandatory switch to “reds” on Lap 51 for the final 20 laps of the race.
Dixon started on primary tires and switched to alternate tires on Lap 27. He made those grippy, but less durable, tires last until switching back to primaries during his second and final stop on Lap 45.
Meanwhile, Rossi had stopped for primary tires on Lap 25 and 47, completing his team’s three-stop strategy.
When Power exited the pits on Lap 51 after his final stop, he led Rossi by 16.079 seconds. He also had nearly twice as much of his allotted push-to-pass time left as Rossi.
The chase was on.
Rossi trimmed the gap to 12.128 seconds with 10 laps left, facing a daunting challenge of making up more than 1.2 seconds per lap to catch Power, let alone pass him. A late caution period would have done that dirty work for Rossi, who started 11th, but it never came.
Still, it appeared Rossi might catch a break with eight laps to go when Power pulled close to the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Jack Harvey, who was running at the tail end of the lead lap. Knowing the risks of trying to pass Harvey on degrading alternate tires, Power wisely instead stayed just behind the Englishman and managed the turbulence and his tires in a deft display of skill.
The gap tightened to 7.7 seconds with five laps left, as a steeper degradation of the less-durable alternate tire began to take its toll. With three laps to go, Rossi pulled to within 6.5 seconds.
Then, with one lap to go, the gap was 2.8 seconds. Rossi was able to trim another 1.8 seconds on the final trip at speed around Belle Isle for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but he ran out of laps to get close enough to Power to try to make a race-winning pass.
The race ended under caution when Rinus VeeKay crashed on the final lap in the No. 21 BitCoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet just as the checkered flag unfurled above Power and Rossi. It was the only caution period of the race.
“I think one more lap would have been really interesting,” Rossi said. “But you’ve got to give credit to the 12 guys and Will. That’s hard to do at the end, to hang on. It was a good recovery from yesterday. The strategy was good.”
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to round out the podium finishers on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile course. It’s the last time the INDYCAR SERIES is competing at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, as the event is moving to the streets of downtown Detroit in 2023.
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