IndyCar GP takeaways: Power surges at perfect time of season

Power, 36, won his third Honda Indy Toronto last year after a decision to pit on Lap 58 worked to his advantage. (Michael Conroy/AP)

That’s more like the Will Power we’ve come to expect in the IndyCar Series.

Following a dreadful start to 2017, Power is back in the zone picking up his first win of the season Saturday at the IndyCar Grand Prix.

Power simply dominated the 14-turn road course through the infield at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting from pole position and leading 61 of 85 laps.

The first five races of the year have all opened with either Power or Penske teammate Helio Castroneves on pole, but neither one was able to convert that into a victory until Saturday.

Coincidentally, Castroneves started on the grid right next to Power and was the only driver to really offer up a challenge for first place. Castroneves claimed P1 after Power experienced a minor hiccup during the first round of pit stops, however, the roles were reversed during the second set of stops at the midway mark and Power pulled back ahead. Castroneves led again briefly, but it was all Power down the stretch as he cruised away uncontested.

There were no wrenches in Power’s plan as those fuel pump failures and punctured tire gremlins that derailed his runs at St. Petersburg and Barber didn’t surface this time.

Power appeared to turn the corner from the worst three-race start to the season of his 13-year career with his runner-up finish at Phoenix and he’s now put that firmly in his rear-view mirror.

The 36-year-old Australian driver is brimming with confidence and momentum at the best time with the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 just a fortnight away. Power has yet to win the crown jewel race, granted, oval racing isn’t exactly his forte with just three of his 30 career wins coming on ovals. Simply put, the Indy 500 is a different beast altogether from what we saw during Saturday’s race.

No one has gone 2-for-2 and swept the pair of Indianapolis races either, although this is only the fourth year since the Grand Prix has been added to the IndyCar Series schedule so let’s not get too caught up in the stats just yet.

13 unlucky numbers

It was a bad weekend at the office for James Hinchcliffe, who struggled with his car’s setup right from the momentum the No. 5 rolled off the truck. Hinchcliffe languished to a 13th place finish, well over a minute behind Power and last among the cars still on the lead lap.

The condensed schedule packing practice and qualifying sessions Friday didn’t give Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Hinchcliffe much time to find the ideal setup on the car.

After starting 10th, Hinchcliffe got a jump on the field heading into the pits early for the first round of stops and the gamble paid off. Hinchcliffe was battling points leader/reigning champ Simon Pagenaud for sixth until problems with his push-to-pass derailed his chances of remaining with the front-runners. One-by-one drivers passed Hinchcliffe including Spencer Pigot, who received a not-so Canadian “wave” from the Oakville, Ont., native.

Hinchcliffe’s teammate Mikhail Aleshin didn’t fare much better finishing 18th.

Dixon continues to fly under the radar

While there have been five different race winners to start the season, Scott Dixon’s name isn’t one of them. The four-time series champ has been the most consistent though with a solid string of finishes including a runner-up result at the IndyCar GP.

That keeps Dixon in second place in the standings and only 10 points back of Pagenaud. The Kiwi driver is bound to finish first at some point with 41 career victories — most among active racers and fourth all-time — and it wouldn’t be surprising if that comes as soon as the end of the month.

Drought continues for Castroneves

Helio Castroneves entered the IndyCar GP with a 48-race winless streak dating back to 2014.

Castroneves remained in podium contention after his reign at the front until fading at the end to finish fifth and extend his drought to 49.

The 42-year-old Brazilian driver can change his fortunes big time at the Indy 500 as he also chases history. Castroneves is the only current driver with three wins at the brickyard and a fourth would put him into a tie for first with legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.

Keeping it clean

The previous three races at the IndyCar Grand Prix resulted in carnage right from the start. With cars blazing down the front straightaway four-wide heading into Turn 1, it’s almost asking for trouble. This year it went off without a hitch for the first time and was clean racing from there resulting in the first caution-free race in the IndyCar Series since Long Beach over a year ago.

Glitch for Newgarden?

While Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck gave out the “drivers, start your engines” command, a different kind of luck definitely wasn’t on the side of Josef Newgarden.

The Team Penske driver was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits and was dinged again for committing the same infraction while serving his penalty. Clearly, something had to be off in Newgarden’s car for him to commit the same error twice, which led to his 11th place finish.

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