Will Power appeared to have surrendered his stature as the premier road racer in the Verizon IndyCar Series to Simon Pagenaud, who notched consecutive victories on the street course in Long Beach, Calif., the permanent circuit at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and on the stadium track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an impressive early season run.
Power has fought back splendidly to challenge Pagenaud as the best on courses with right and left turns, winning his second straight Sunday at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
The 35-year-old Australian started on pole and led 46 of 50 laps in the 4-mile circuit, longest of 11 road-and-street courses on the 16-race IndyCar schedule. Power was never passed, nor seriously threatened on the track, relinquishing the lead only during pit-stop sequences.
Power finished ahead of runner-up Tony Kanaan by .7429. It was that close because of the race’s only full-course caution that created a restart with seven laps to go.
Power had gone through the longest dry period of his IndyCar career, going 17 straight races without a win before his triumph in the second race at Detroit on June 5.
It undoubtedly helped rebuild his confidence and his spirit. Power’s Chevrolet was untouchable at Road America.
“Will was in a league of his own,” Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves said.
It was the 27th win of Power’s IndyCar career, 22 on a road-style course, and boosted him into third place in the points. Pagenaud still has a commanding lead with 375, Castroneves is second with 301 and Power third with 294.
“I badly wanted to win another race,” Power said. “I needed this one. It is huge. I was talking championship even before this race. There are seven races to go and we’re still in it. There could be a 100-poiint swing in the last race (at Sonoma, Calif., which has double points). We have to go for it.”
Pagenaud was running second on the restart with seven laps to go, but faded to 13th with engine problems. But he lost only six points of his championship lead. Scott Dixon had trailed by 80 and the Target Chip Ganassi driver had engine problems early and finished 22nd.
“We wasted an opportunity for the championship,” Pagenaud said, “but Dixon didn’t have much luck either.”
Newgarden’s amazing recovery from Texas
Two weeks after a 200 mile per hour crash at Texas Motor Speedway in the Firestone 600 and a broken right collarbone and right hand, Josef Newgarden drove from 20th starting position to finish eighth.
Newgarden’s Ed Carpenter Racing had JR Hildebrand drive the No. 21 Chevrolet in a test at Road America on June 15. Newgarden was given permission by IndyCar’s medical staff to participate in Friday’s first practice. The 25-year-old Tennessean was 15th with a top lap that averaged 139.088 mph and was cleared to drive in qualifying and the race.
"I feel the pain in the hands everywhere," he said following the Friday practice. "I think the clavicle has been surprisingly better than I thought. Braking and going into the corners is not much of an issue. It's going to be sore, but I think I can manage the pain."
Newgarden spun in qualifying—a mistake he called “silly,” and didn’t blame on his injured right hand. Before the race, his plan was “to get my hand working and go as hard as I can.”
Newgarden blocked out the injuries on his drive to eighth, but you have to wonder how he’ll feel on Monday when the adrenalin disappears.
“I tried to focus on the drive,” he said. “They (injuries) weren’t limiting me as much as people were thinking they would. The car was so good today. I think we had a podium car if I could have qualified the thing properly. We got good points; we gained points on the guys we needed to in the championship.”
Newgarden is fifth with 283 points, two behind fourth-place Dixon in the championship.
The return to Road America: A Smashing Success
Indy cars had raced annually at Road America from 1982 to 2003 under CART sanction and continued under Champ Car in 2004. Declining attendance caused Champ Car to not return in 2005, but it was back in 2006 and 2007. The crowds stayed away and with Champ Car going out of business early in 2008, and IndyCar trying to rebuild Milwaukee, Road America was left out in the cold.
IndyCar’s Milwaukee race struggled to attract crowds and sponsors and was dropped from the schedule following the 2015 season. It opened the door for Road America for the Wisconsin date on the schedule.
Road America President and General Manager George Bruggenthies couldn’t provide the attendance figures for the massive crowd, but called it the largest attendance in track history.
"The crowds really came out," Bruggenthies said. "The crowd came out and they had a great time. Beautiful race, I think they'll be back."
IndyCar drivers were enthusiastic about the crowd
“I walked around the camping grounds earlier in the weekend,” Will Power said. “It just amazed me how many people are here, and how much fun they are having. Just walking in here on Thursday, you could see the place was really popping. I am just so stoked to be back here. We should have been back here a long time ago. All the fans are great.”
“What a great race,” Tony Kanaan said. “Down the straightaways I was able to look at the fans on the last two laps and people were standing and spinning hats and shirts and that's what I love to see. I hope (the fans) enjoyed it as much as I did and they come back because we'll make even better next year."
“I think we put on a great show for the fans,” Newgarden said. “We had an amazing crowd. We should have been coming here all along! I hope we come back here for many, many years to run. It's one of the best tracks and has the best racing. That's one of the reasons I wanted make sure I was able to race here.”
IndyCar’s biggest need in rebuilding the series is more successful events like it has with Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Toronto in addition to the mammoth Indy 500. The return to Phoenix in April was promising. Road America was a Goliath and perhaps a cornerstone of the future of IndyCar racing.