Power wins sixth race of the season for Team Penske at inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix
BALTIMORE, Md. (September 4, 2011) – Team Penske’s Will Power dominated the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix on Sunday for Verizon Team Penske and took another major step in his IZOD IndyCar Series championship quest.
Power led three times on the challenging Baltimore street circuit on Sunday for a race-high 70 laps as scored his sixth win of the season. After leading a Team Penske 1-2-3 finish one week earlier in Sonoma, Calif., Power made it two consecutive victories in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda as he cruised to a 10-second win over Oriol Servia.
That’s exactly what we needed. We’re closing in (on Franchitti).
With the victory, Power trimmed the deficit to series leader Dario Franchitti to just five points with three races remaining in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series. Power sliced 21 points off of Franchitti’s lead over the course of the weekend in Baltimore as the Penske pilot scored the points for the victory and the bonus markers for winning the pole and leading the most laps on Sunday while Franchitti finished fourth.
“I gave it absolutely everything I had,” said Power, who also captured his series-leading seventh pole of the season on Saturday. “That was an unbelievable result. One of my best races ever. That’s exactly what we needed. We’re closing in (on Franchitti).”
While Power was celebrating his victory, though, his teammates both encountered problems on the 12-turn, two-mile circuit constructed around Baltimore’s inner harbor. Ryan Briscoe finished 14th in the No. 6 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske machine following a mid-race penalty, while Helio Castroneves came home 17th in the No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car after starting from the back of the field and falling a lap down when he was involved in a multi-car incident.
Power and his street course dominance were the story of the day on Sunday, however, as packed grandstands full of enthusiastic race fans soaked in their first taste of IndyCar racing on the streets of Baltimore. The key strategy of the race for Power and the Verizon team began during the extended caution period from laps 38-48.
Several competitors, including Servia and Tony Kanaan, came to pit lane under the long yellow flag hoping to stretch their fuel to the end of the race. Once the race was restarted, Power pushed as hard as he could to build a big lead over the cars that had pitted earlier. With a 27-second cushion, Power headed down pit lane and the Verizon crew executed a flawless stop to get their driver back on track ahead of Servia and Kanaan. From there, Power continued to set a blistering pace as he went on to produce his 12th win in 38 career starts for Team Penske.
“I just ran as hard as I could – basically running qualifying laps in the Verizon car to build that lead,” said Power, who has now earned the most wins in a single season since Scott Dixon produced six victories on his way to the 2008 IndyCar Series title. “My guys had a great stop and they told me to go – to use my push-to-pass on my out lap so I could come out in front. When they told me on the radio that I was in front of Oriol and I was the leader I knew we were in a good position to win it. That’s a great feeling.”
Unfortunately, Briscoe and Castroneves experienced different feelings on Sunday. After starting third, Briscoe ran among the top five for the first half of the race. On a lap 37 race restart, however, the Guidepoint Systems car made contact with the machine driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who spun in Turn 3 to create a logjam of cars. Eventually, race officials penalized Briscoe for avoidable contact in the incident and he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty on pit lane as he dropped from fourth to 17th in the running order. He finished in the 14th position and, as a result, fell from fifth to sixth in the series standings.
“It ended up being a really disappointing day for us in the Guidepoint Systems car,” said Briscoe. “After the contact with Hunter-Reay, we were penalized for avoidable contact. After that, we were pretty much done. It was really unfortunate for us as we had a car that was definitely capable of being in the hunt for another top-three finish. Good job to Will and the Verizon guys. They did what they needed to for the championship.”
Castroneves also was impacted by the multicar accident in Turn 3 that touched off the long caution period, but even before the race started the three-time Indy 500 champion had an eventful Sunday. During the morning warmup practice, the brakes failed on Tony Kanaan’s car and it sailed over the top of Castroneves’ Shell Pennzoil machine and into the tire barrier. Fortunately, both drivers were uninjured in the scary accident, but they each had to turn to their backup cars as the primary machines were too damaged to repair. So, despite earning a seventh-place starting spot in qualifying, Castroneves was forced to start the race from the rear of the field in the backup car.
After working his way up in the running order, Castroneves was one of several drivers that stalled their cars after coming across the melee in Turn 3. After safety workers were able to re-fire the No. 3 Shell V-Power machine, Castroneves had fallen a lap down to the leaders and he was unable to recover.
“The Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra car had a lot of potential this weekend but we had a few bad breaks,” said Castroneves, who remained ninth in the championship standings with Sunday’s finish. “We were in the warm-up accident with Tony, and I’m glad we both came out OK. The guys did a great job putting the backup car together but then the series penalized us for going to the backup. Once the race started we were doing OK – we pitted early and were making track position, but there was an issue with the clutch when I tried to avoid all the cars in Turn 3 during the yellow and we ended up going a lap down. That really eliminated any chance of getting a top-10 finish.”