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Power Pushed to Limit for Third INDYCAR Grand Prix Victory

Will Power earned his event-record third career INDYCAR Grand Prix victory – all from the pole – on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ho-hum, right? Not at all. The statistics above don’t tell anywhere near the entire story.

Power triumphed in a thrilling race that featured multiple passes for the lead, a race record-tying seven different leaders and plenty of strategy to earn his first victory of the Verizon IndyCar Series season in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. It also was the 200th victory in Indy car competition for Team Penske.

“Man, I’ve never driven so hard for an entire race,” Power said. “I was 100 percent the whole time. Yeah, I’m exhausted.”

Scott Dixon earned his first podium finish of the season by finishing second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon challenged Power for the lead toward the end of the race but ended up 2.2443 seconds behind the winner.

Rookie Robert Wickens rounded out the podium finishers in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda. It was his third top-five finish in the first five starts of his Verizon IndyCar Series career.

Sebastien Bourdais placed fourth in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda, while 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil winner Alexander Rossi placed fifth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda.

Power took the lead for good on Lap 51 of the 85-lap race, passing Wickens with an outside-inside move that started in Turn 1 and finished in Turn 2. That decisive pass came with Power on Firestone alternate tires with more grip, while Wickens was racing on Firestone primary tires. It was the final act of a strategic duel of tire strategies by Team Penske and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Both drivers started from the front row, Power from the pole and Wickens second, on alternate tires. But Power took primary “black” tires while Wickens stayed on alternate “red” tires. The extra grip helped Wickens stretch to a 5.375-second lead over Power just 15 laps after their first stops.

On Lap 41, Wickens pitted and switched to primary tires, as every driver must run at least two laps per race on both tire compounds. Meanwhile, Power switched to alternate tires during his second pit stop of the race, on Lap 42.

A quick pit stop by Team Penske and the faster alternate tires helped Power erase Wickens’ lead quickly. Power pulled to within .6222 of a second by Lap 48, and the gap was more than halved to .3084 of a second by Lap 50.

Power then made the winning pass on Lap 51 and pulled out to a 2.2855-second lead after Lap 52.

It appeared Power would canter to a third victory, adding to his wins in this event from pole in 2015 and 2017. But a full-course caution on Lap 55 when Josef Newgarden spun in Turn 12 while battling Bourdais for third place.

All 22 cars on the lead lap pitted on Lap 58, planning to stretch fuel mileage all the way to the finish. Power won the race off pit road and kept the lead when green-flag racing resumed on Lap 61.

While Power never trailed by less than a second after Lap 67, the show wasn’t over. Dixon showed his incomparable ability to maintain speed while saving fuel and completed a stirring drive from the 18th starting spot to second place.

Dixon exited the final pit stop in third, behind Power and Wickens, but he passed Wickens for second on Lap 64. Dixon then kept a steady gap to Power over the next few laps. But the tricky balancing act of managing fuel and trying to catch Power finally caught up to Dixon.

“I was a little surprised they got the fuel mileage they did,” Dixon said of Power. “They’ve made good gains on that. I was pushing as hard as I could. The car balance was a little loose in traffic. The harder I pushed to try and close the gap each time, I would just burn the rears (tires) off. I kind of had to back off and try again, in that cycle. I just couldn’t close that gap that we had.”

Power then drove away to his 33rd career victory and a milestone win for Team Penske and team owner Roger Penske.

“It’s amazing,” Power said. “It shows the dedication that Roger has to winning. The quality of the team, and it’s a real honor to drive for him. He’s just a first-class guy. Apart from the race team, he’s a real welcoming family guy and just a great human being. I’m privileged to drive for him.”

Three Royal Purple GP of Indy races for the Mazda Road to Indy series also took place today, the second of the event for each series.

Colton Herta completed a sweep of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races at this event. He passed Santi Urrutia with three laps to go after a thrilling duel and beat Aaron Telitz to the finish by 4.1968 seconds in the 35-lap race. It was the second victory of the season for Herta, 18, son of Indianapolis 500 veteran Bryan Herta.

Urrutia passed pole sitter Pato O’Ward for the lead in Turn 7 on Lap 2. O’Ward locked his brakes and went wide in Turn 1 on Lap 22, letting Herta dive underneath for second place.

Herta then set his sights on Urrutia, pulling to within .6420 of a second with nine laps remaining. Herta continued to look for a spot to pass but couldn’t find an opening.

With three laps to go, Herta went outside Urrutia in Turn 1 in nearly an identical move he used to beat Urrutia on Friday. The left two wheels of Herta’s car were in the grass, and his right front wheel made contact with the left rear wheel of Urrutia’s car, sending it into a half-spin.

Herta motored past to take the lead for the rest of the race. Telitz and Victor Franzoni also passed Urrutia. Franzoni ended up third, with Urrutia fourth.

“Man, that was incredible,” Herta said. “You always go into a race knowing you can do it. I thought I couldn’t top yesterday’s (Friday) race, but I think I had more fun in this one. It was hard-fought, just fully focused the full 35 laps.”

Just like last year, I had some contact and didn’t finish some races, so it goes both ways.”

Said Urrutia: “It’s racing, but when you’re not up front, you’re going to do anything. He went off track, and he hit me. It’s not fair. That’s how he won the race. I had a good car. I was leading the race. I was doing a clear race, and he hit me to win the race. It’s not fair.”

Parker Thompson won the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires race. Thompson, who started sixth, passed Carlos Cunha for the lead on Lap 17 and beat Cunha to the finish by 1.8885 seconds. Sting Ray Robb finished third.

Thompson earned his second victory of the season and regained the championship lead.

“It’s unbelievable,” Thompson said. “This is the Racing Capital of the World. To get a win where racing was born is amazing.”

Friday winner Harrison Scott placed 12th, eliminated from the 25-lap race after just 11 laps due to a mechanical problem. Today’s pole sitter, Oliver Askew, placed fourth.

Kyle Kirkwood held off Friday winner Alex Baron to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda race. Pole sitter Kirkwood edged Baron by .8372 of a second for his second victory of the season.

While Kirkwood won, Baron produced the drive of the day among the three Mazda Road to Indy series. He was running second on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind and spun off the course. Baron rejoined the race in 24th place and drove nearly through the entire field to second place.

Rasmus Lindh finished third.

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