IMS IndyCar: Power dominates for 40th win, agony for Palou

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Will Power scored his fifth win at the IMS road course but his first victory of 2021 with a brilliant drive ahead of Romain Grosjean, while Alex Palou put in a fine drive only to see his Honda engine blow with under 20 laps to go.

Polesitter Pato O’Ward made a good break at the start in his Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet and held off Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Power, who in turn kept Grosjean’s Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda behind him.

Colton Herta moved up the inside of IndyCar debutant Christian Lundgaard to take fourth at the end of the back straight into Turn 7, a strong move for the Andretti Autosport driver who had started on primary tires, like Power and Grosjean, whereas O’Ward and Lundgaard’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda were on the softer alternate Firestones.

Behind them, Jack Harvey held sixth in the Meyer Shank Racing-Honda, ahead of Palou in the top Ganassi car, but the points leader was struggling with his engine mapping. In eighth ran Alexander Rossi (Andretti), ahead of Conor Daly’s Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy. Daly’s teammate Rinus VeeKay had lost out to Simon Pagenaud (on reds) on the opening lap, however, and on Lap 6 he also ceded 11th to Graham Rahal, who was up from 16th, and on Lap 7 he lost 12th to Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.

By then, O’Ward had pulled 2.5sec on Power who in turn had 1.5sec over Grosjean who ran about a second ahead of Herta who was a similar distance clear of Lundgaard.

Scott McLaughlin ran 22nd despite a huge launch over a Turn 6 curb, but had survived to run ahead of fellow Kiwi Scott Dixon, who had gained only three places since the start. That prompted him to stop for Firestone reds on Lap 9. Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe followed suit, and soon Ryan Hunter-Reay had done the same.

Rossi was the first of the frontrunners to get off the primaries and onto alternates on Lap 12, and then Power (running 3.5sec behind O’Ward) Herta and Harvey did the same a lap later. A lap after that, Grosjean came in.

Championship contenders O’Ward and Palou pitted after Lap 16 laps, leaving debutant Lundgaard in the lead. O’Ward emerged in front of Power, but was now on primaries and Power on up-to-temp reds dived inside the polesitter at Turn 12 to take sixth, which became fifth when Lundgaard pitted to change from reds onto blacks.

As the remaining leaders peeled off into the pits, Power took the lead by 4.3sec on Lap 21… and a lap later his nearest pursuer was not O’Ward, but Herta, who dived past his former Indy Lights teammate at Turn 12 to take second. Power responded and eked out his lead to 5sec, while Herta left O’Ward behind, and the young Mexican had to cede third to Grosjean, who was also now on alternates.

The action remained tight further back, with Rossi in fifth just ahead of Palou, Rahal, Pagenaud and Lundgaard covered by four seconds. Indeed, Palou was towing this train onto the tail of Harvey, who wasn’t yet close enough to Rossi to attempt a pass, having lost position to his semi-teammate on his out-lap after their first stops.

Dixon at this stage had climbed to 18th, ahead of Josef Newgarden who had been trying to avoid dive-bomb attempts in the opening stint, and keep some life in his title challenge by avoiding trouble. On Lap 28, the two-time champion passed the six-time champ.

The second half of the Top 10 suddenly got more exciting on Lap 30, as Rossi’s early stop for reds meant he was losing time, and was now struggling to hold off Harvey, Palou, Rahal, Pagenaud and Lundgaard.

Rather than Harvey passing Rossi, it was Palou who made the first move, nabbing Harvey into Turn 1 on Lap 34 to claim sixth, and immediately threaten Rossi. The points leader passed the Andretti car into Turn 7 next time by. Behind them, Harvey pitted for a second time, a lap after Dixon did the same.

On Lap 36, Pagenaud, with Lundgaard filling his mirrors, dived up the inside of Rossi at Turn 12 and that sent Rossi scurrying to the pits.

On Lap 38, Power (with a 6.2sec lead) and Grosjean stopped from first and third respectively, with Herta going one lap longer before stopping.

O’Ward pitted to get off his primaries and onto used reds, emerging in a net fourth (Max Chilton’s Carlin car was running off strategy in the top three), 15sec adrift of Power who now held an eight second lead over Herta. Behind O’Ward, Palou held a secure fifth, while Harvey was back in front of Rossi, and the two were locked in battle.

One man struggling in this stint was Lundgaard on primaries, who had been jumped by teammate Rahal in the pits and then lost out to the red-tired cars of Daly, other teammate Sato, Marcus Ericsson, and Newgarden. He was soon under pressure from the last winner on the IMS road course, VeeKay, and Dixon who was up to 16th.

Power had pulled his lead out to over nine seconds until getting up behind Hinchcliffe, who Power believed was backing him up towards Hinch’s AA teammate Herta, or at least was trying to force him to overuse his push-to-pass boost. The Penske driver’s lead was down to 5sec by Lap 57. Rossi moved past Harvey at Turn 1 on Lap 58, but a couple of laps later there was a move with championship significance as Palou dived inside O’Ward for fourth at Turn 1.

Power’s lead was down to 4.5sec by the time he pitted on Lap 61… and he was annoyed to see Hinch stop right ahead of him and emerge right ahead of him, as Power tried to pull out in second gear. Also stopping this lap were Grosjean, Palou and O’Ward but Herta stayed out a lap longer to see if he could make further gains on leader Power. He could – his deficit to Power was down to 3.5sec – and he emerged just in front of Grosjean, who had Palou rapidly closing him down.

But then it all went horribly wrong for Palou, with his engine letting go on Lap 68, after the championship leader had played it perfect all day, beating his nearest title rivals.

For Power, who doesn’t normally welcome yellows while leading, it at least meant that Hinchcliffe would be taken out of his view by Race Control, but he’d have to defend from three other aggressive drivers with little to lose as they’re out of the championship hunt – Herta, Grosjean (albeit with no P2P left) and Rossi. O’Ward in fifth was advised by Arrow McLaren SP team president and strategist Taylor Kiel to keep his title hopes in mind for the restart, since Palou was out, Newgarden was 10th and Dixon was 13th.

The restart came on Lap 71, and Grosjean made a magnificent pass, drafting up to Herta and passing him around the outside at Turn 1 to claim second. Behind them, O’Ward went toe-to-toe with Rossi in a gripping duel over fourth, while Rahal Sato, Newgarden and Ericsson all demoting Pagenaud to outside the Top 10. A lap later, Daly also cleared the #22 Penske to grab 11th.

Up front, the battle was Power with 75sec of P2P but on used reds, against Grosjean with no overtake boost but on fresh reds and the gap was 1.4sec with nine laps to go. The DCR-RWR driver was keeping over 1.5sec clear of Herta though, while behind Herta, Rossi ran 1sec ahead of O’Ward.

Then came the second yellow, as McLaughlin had punted VeeKay into a spin at Turn 7, and the ECR driver had stalled, requiring a bumpstart. McLaughlin would have to serve a drive-through penalty.

The second restart came at the end of Lap 78, with six laps to go. Power and Grosjean went early to get clear from Herta, and Power eked out eight-tenths over the ex-Formula 1 driver, while Herta started coming back at Grosjean, and dropping the Rossi/ O’Ward/Harvey/Rahal battle for fourth.

With two laps to go, Newgarden nerfed Sato aside to grab eighth at Turn 1 – having climbed from 20th! – and Taku lost another spot to Ericsson.

Power calmly headed Grosjean to the checkered flag to win by 1.1142s, with Herta a further 1.2356sec adrift.

Dixon was classified 17th, while teammate Jimmie Johnson had what was by far the best race of his nascent IndyCar career taking only 19th but finishing on the lead lap.

Power's 40th win means he breaks the tie with Al Unser for fifth in IndyCar's all-time winners list. 

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