The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season did not start well for Will Power, illness forced him out of his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet at the St. Petersburg, Florida season opener and it was not until the second leg of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit that the Australian won his first race of the season. After Sunday’s twin checkered flags flew over the Road America circuit in Wisconsin however, the disastrous start is now just a memory.
Starting from the pole Sunday in the Kohler Grand Prix, the first North American major open wheel race at the four-mile layout since 2007, Power’s biggest challenges were at the start of the race and at the finish. Power held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon entering turn one and then managed to deny a late surge by Dixon’s teammate Tony Kanaan to secure his second win of the 2016 campaign, vaulting him to third on the current championship points table.
Although the Brazilian IndyCar veteran entered Sunday’s event with top ten finishes in seven of the first eight races to open 2016, the Kohler Grand Prix was Kanaan’s best chance this season to claim his first win since the 2014 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Kanaan’s race was not without its difficulties; twice he was overtaken by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal during a series of green flag pit stops, only to regain his original position less than a lap later.
During the final round of green flag pit stops, Kanaan elected to go for a set of red sidewall Firestone tires, while Power opted for the primary black tires. Power held a significant cushion late, but once back into second place with five laps to go, Kanaan used the increased grip from the optional treads to reel in the Australian, but was never able to mount a serious challenge and settled for runner-up honors on the afternoon. Rahal held on to finish as the highest placed Honda-powered runner in third, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves who completed the top five.
Among the second five finishers was an injured, but determined Josef Newgarden who despite suffering from a broken hand and collarbone, drove his No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet to an eighth-place finish for Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden suffered the injuries in a serious accident two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, but through surgery and multiple pins placed in his collarbone, the Tennessee-native was cleared to participate this weekend. Newgarden’s ECR teammate Spencer Pigot also had a solid run on Sunday, earning his first career Verizon IndyCar Series top ten finish by finishing in ninth place.
While Sunday was a profitable day for most of the IndyCar Series full time fleet, others had less fortunate outcomes. After challenging Power from his front row starting position entering turn one, the New Zealander suddenly slowed on lap three due to an apparent engine failure. Dixon, who entered Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix trailing Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud by 80 points, is now 90 points back in fourth place on the table after finishing 22nd and last on Sunday.
Of course, Pagenaud was unable to further extend his large lead on his pursuers on Sunday either. While Power’s decision to stay on black tires allowed him to win the race, a similar move backfired on the Frenchman who restarted the race after the only full course caution with just seven laps to go in second place. However, with multiple drivers behind him on the optional reds, Pagenaud suddenly began to lose positions rapidly eventually taking the checkered flag in 13th. The finish puts Pagenaud on top of the points race front by 74 points over his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, with Will Power 81 markers in third.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action in two weeks at the just under one-mile Iowa Speedway oval, for the Iowa Corn 300 on Saturday night, July 10th.