Detroit Grand Prix: Power bests Rossi in a battle of strategy

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DETROIT — It was a rare caution-free race around Belle Isle, something unfitting for the final race on the island. But Will Power held on to his alternate red tires for the final 20 laps, as a hard-charging, win-hungry Alexander Rossi missed out on his first win in three years by just a second.

“Oh, its cold”

That’s what Will Power said as he dipped his feet into the waters of the James Scott Memorial Fountain before jumping in, celebrating his 39th career IndyCar Series win, and his third in Detroit.

Thirty minutes prior, the 41-year old Aussie, driving for Team Penske had quite the opposite of cold feet. it was a battle of strategy, but Power beat Alexander Rossi to the line by a second, securing the championship lead over Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson.

A Clean Start

It was a clean first 10 laps, with some changes in position amongst the top-five. However, during those laps, every team that started on the “alternate” red tires had to make a decision. Were they going to pit early? Or were they going to stick it out on the reds for 15 laps to bring the two-stop strategy into play?

Drivers like Alexander Rossi and Rinus Veekay elected to pit within the first five laps of the race, getting their requires stint on reds out of the way. Electing the other strategy were Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, among others, who stuck it out until Lap 19 . But in the meantime, those who started on the “primary” black tires were absolutely zooming. Will Power and Scott Dixon specifically overtook the polesitter Newgarden before his pit stop, as they were over three seconds a lap faster on the blacks.

Strategies Emerge

However, at this point, those who started on the blacks felt them starting to fall off. While the front three (Power, Dixon, Palou) kept their pace, Kyle Kirkwood, who was running in fourth, ducked onto pit road on Lap 24. Just a lap later, Rossi became the first driver to make a second pit stop as he changed into a fresh quartet of black tires. On Lap 26, Power pitted from the lead of the race, followed by Dixon and Palou a lap later. The two Ganassi teammates put on their set of reds, while Power, saving his reds for the end, put on a new set of blacks as he retained his lead. On the same set of pit stops, Helio Castroneves, who was sitting in the top five all day, encountered a problem on pit road, ending his day.

Around Lap 30, the sky darkened slightly and a light drizzle of rain came down around some parts of Belle Isle. However, it was not enough to truly effect the cars.

Clear Frontrunners

As of Lap 40 of 70, there was a clear front four: Power, Dixon, Palou, and Rossi. However, Rossi had a significant advantage because he was hanging arounf that front three, with those three still needing to change onto the reds. On Lap 39, Rossi, on that differing strategy, made the pass on Palou. Just four laps later, Rossi made move on Palou’s teammate Dixon. As Palou made his second pit stop on Lap 44, Rossi found himself 18 seconds behind the leader power, with both drivers on the primary blacks.

As Rossi found himself in the middle of lapped traffic on Lap 47, he made his third and final stop for primary tires. This only lost him a single spot on track.

Mad Dash to the End

On Lap 50, Kirkwood, who was running third at the time, slapped the wall on cold tires, ending what would’ve been a career day. At the end of the same lap, Power pitted from the lead, beginning a 20-lap run on the softer reds. As Power came out, he retained a 16-second lead over the trailing Rossi.

In the laps immediately following Power’s stop, Rossi made up around one second a lap, cutting his deficit down to 13 seconds on Lap 55. With ten to go, Rossi’s deficit continued to drop, but perhaps not at the rate he may have wanted, as Rossi was only a few tenths a lap faster in Laps 57-60. With seven to go, Power began to hit some lapped traffic as Rossi brought the gap to under 10 seconds.

The lap after, the wear on Power’s red tires started to show as Rossi cut his deficit down over two seconds on Lap 65. Although he was stuck behind Jack Harvey for the final ten laps, Rossi’s tire advantage proved to be too little, as Will Power took his first victory of the season at the Detroit Grand Prix by just a second.

Redemption Time

After Power was caught out by a red flag in last year’s race at Belle Isle, the three-time Detroit winner said post-race that “It was a race on my mind, no question. I wanted to get that one…”.

And in the most Power-esque fashion, he pulled it out on the soft tires, taking not only the victory, but the championship lead as well.

Standings after the Detroit Grand Prix

A well-deserved win means a well-deserved championship lead for the Aussie.

2: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing – 252 points
3: Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP – 243 points
4: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing – 241 points
5: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske – 208 points

For a full field points rundown, click here.

Takeaways from the Detroit Grand Prix

  1. Will Power might just be the championship favorite.
  2. Alexander Rossi certainly has his swagger back after his AMSP announcement.
  3. Belle Isle will certainly be missed.

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TOP IMAGE: Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment