Will Power is now officially an IndyCar all-rounder, as he won an Indianapolis 500 in which the fastest cars actually finished near the front.
On a scorching hot day, the first lap was busy with several drivers experimenting with the outside line. By lap 4 the big movers were Tony Kanaan, who was up to 6th and Marco Andretti who was up to 10th. Near the back Graham Rahal and Alex Rossi had moved up to 23rd and 26th.
The cars were strung out early on and that set the tone for the race. The new aerokit punched a smaller hole in the air behind making it more difficult to get a slipstream and pass. At the 50 mile mark polesitter Ed Carpenter led Simon Pagenaud, Power, defending champion Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, TK, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Marco, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick in her last ever professional race.
As Carpenter came up to lap the backmarkers James Davison started getting loose, very loose. This created a bottleneck behind as the first round of pitstops began. After the stops TK was up to 2nd with JoNew 3rd and Power dropping back to 6th. By this stage Rahal was 17th and Rossi 23rd.
Davison was finally put out of his misery on lap 48. Almost coasting, he was hit up the back by a hapless Takuma Sato. This triggered a mad dash to the pits in which Power leapfrogged back to an effective 3rd.
An effective 3rd because rookie Zach Cleman DeMelo was leading having not stopped, although he went backwards on a restart that saw Ed Jones have an accident that was to befall several. His car got loose at the rear and he just went around and into the wall on lap 58.
When the race resumed four laps later TK took the lead from Carpenter, although Carpenter immediately took it back in the first real exchange of positions up front on the track. Danica had fallen back to 16th when her final race came to a disappointing end when she took lost the rear on lap 68. Surprisingly, JoNew decided to pit along with ZCD and Robert Wickens in his first Indy 500. This put them on an alternate strategy.
TK took the lead again on the restart and held it this time. The order behind him was Carpenter, Power, Pagenaud, Helio, RHR, Pigot, Marco, Dixie and veteran Oriol Servia. Amazingly, Rossi was just behind in 11th having made astonishing progress.
The top six started pulling out a gap on the rest and they stayed in formation until lap 90 when TK took the pitlane. Unfortunately TK picked up a puncture almost straightaway, so he had to stop again! This effectively ended his chances. The off-strategy crew of JoNew, Wicky Bobby and Graham pitted on laps 102 and 106. After these stops Power led with Carpenter, Pagenaud, Helio and RHR behind. Rossi was now into the top ten just behind Sage Karam.
Fast forward to lap 125, just after 300 miles. Power still led Carpenter and Pagenaud with RHR now ahead of Helio. A lap later Marco started the next pitstops and the off-strategy crew pitted 5-10 laps later than the leaders. On lap 139, things changed a little as Seabass got a tankslapper and a half between turns 3 and 4, slamming into the wall. Fortunately this year he was uninjured.
On the restart Rossi started taking the mickey as he went way up high, passing four cars in one corner on the restart, putting him in the top five. Helio then gave us more yellow as he got out of shape out of turn 4 on lap 147, hitting the inside wall and sliding into the pits. JoNew and Graham were now 10th and 11th with Wicko slipping back in 16th.
Then came the “yellows breed yellows” stage of the race. Two restarts in quick succession (the second coming courtesy of Karam having a crash) led to some kamikaze moves from Rossi and TK. Rossi again was using the outside and TK pretty much ran the back stretch on the grass to move up six spots in a few hundred yards! Meanwhile the guys he passed, including Wicko, were desperately trying not to run into each other.
Once the drivers had chilled out a bit, Power led Carpenter, Rossi, Pagenaud, RHR, Graham, Marco, JoNew and TK. Interestingly, Dixie pitted on lap 161 meaning he now had enough fuel to get to the end if he saved. Could he pull off a Rossi and win on fumes?
The rest pitted between laps 172 and 180 with Dixie duly moving into the effective lead. However, his tyres were much, much, older than those behind him and Power swooped around him for the lead with 15 to go. Then, just when we thought the race was sorted, TK crashed on lap 189!
This left everyone with the classic dilemma of taking fresh tyres and having a rocket ship, or keeping track position and having to defend like crazy. Everyone chose the latter and it was Oriol Servia who had the lead coming to the restart on lap 194. Behind him, wait for it, were Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey!
These three ran three-wide into turn one with Wilson coming out ahead of Harvey and Servia. Power then got around Servia, but he still had Harvey and Wilson in front. Could the two underdogs pull of a giantkilling result and shock Team Penske?
No! They couldn’t! They were almost out of juice and dashed for the pits with four to go and that mean Power was back in the lead! He was never to lose it and emphatically crossed the finish line screaming on the radio in relief. Behind him were Carpenter, Dixie, who’d held onto 3rd; Rossi capping his fantastic recovery; RHR, Pagenaud, Carlos Munoz, JoNew, Wicky Bobby and Graham rounding out the ten. Willy P’s win was the first for an Aussie at Indy and the 17th at the Speedway for The Captain, Roger Penske.
A double points paying race, it leaves the championship even closer. Power leads on 243 with Rossi just two behind. JoNew follows on 233 with Dixie a little further back on 218. RHR rounds out the top five with Graham just three points behind him. Wicko and Pagenaud all move up but Seabass and James Hinchcliffe fall down to 8th and 10th thanks to their non-finish and failure to qualify.
While the whole of Australia waltzes to Matilda all day tomorrow, it doesn’t stop there! We go to motor city, Detroit, next weekend for two races on the bumpy street track.