Will Power held off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in a tense battle on the Indianapolis road course to rack up Roger Penske’s 200th win in IndyCar, while Robert Wickens finished third.
Despite going four and five wide into the first corner, the field behaved themselves for about 10 seconds, but Simon Pagenaud, who’d gotten around Jordan King by using a fraction of the pit exit lane (legitimately), was nudged back into the path of the Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet through Turn 2.
The dayglo Penske got punted by the ECR machine, and while Pagenaud got going again, King speared into the sandtrap and needed rescuing.
ECR's other entry also got into a spin, this time at Turn 5/6 after Spencer Pigot got squeezed over the curbs at the chicane, and slid along the wet grass backward. Pigot was issued a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
The yellow allowed Takuma Sato, teammate Graham Rahal and Pagenaud to all pit for a fuel top-up.
The restart saw Power storm away as Wickens’ Schmidt Peterson-Honda and Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing-Honda dueled over second place. Then Bourdais had to turn his attention to his mirrors as he was under attack from Josef Newgarden’s Penske.
Over the opening dozen laps, Power kept a margin of around one second over Wickens, but the pair of them were now four seconds ahead of Bourdais, who was still trying to stave off the attention of Newgarden and Alexander Rossi.
Dixon, like Marco Andretti, pitted early (on lap 13) to go off strategy and get off his primary tires and onto the alternate compound, and the Penskes of Helio Castroneves and Pagenaud soon followed suit. James Hinchcliffe pitted from sixth on Lap 19.
As Power had caught up with the recovering Pigot, so Wickens closed in on the leading Penske, forcing Power to use his push-to-pass to try and get around the ECR car. Power and Wickens entered the pits on Lap 20, virtually together and left together, but Power on primary tires and Wickens on another set of reds, allowing Bourdais in front for just a lap before he too, pulled in.
Newgarden went a lap longer, leaving Rossi at the top of the leaderboard, while Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay followed Newgarden in. Rossi would stop on Lap 23.
Meanwhile, on the black tires, Power had been unable to hold off Wickens, conceding a spot along the back straight. By lap 26, Wickens held a 2.5sec lead, and Power was having to fight off Bourdais who was also on reds. Newgarden, like Power, was on blacks and a further five seconds down, still trying to hold off Rossi.
Behind them, in sixth, Dixon’s off-strategy run had seen him climb to sixth, ahead of Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay. Rahal passed Tony Kanaan for ninth on Lap 28, and Hunter-Reay for eighth on Lap 34. Hunter-Reay, on blacks, was also easy meat for Castroneves, and he conceded ninth on the pitstraight on Lap 35.
Rossi, Dixon, Hinchcliffe and the second Ganassi car of Ed Jones made their second stops on Lap 36, with Newgarden and Castroneves doing the same two laps later, Pagenaud a lap after that.
Up front, Wickens’ lead over Power had stabilized at around 5sec, as the Canadian started suffering understeer from his reds, while Power was a steady one second ahead of Bourdais.
As their second stops approached, Wickens leant on his push to pass but Power was within 4.5sec when the SPM car stopped, while Bourdais also pulled in on Lap 41. Power, having also blasted his P2P in recent laps, stopped on Lap 42. Now he had the reds, Wickens was on blacks.
The gap was 3.5sec, and Bourdais (on blacks) had fallen 3.5sec behind the #12 Penske. At this point the leader was the off-strategy Rahal, but he handed the lead back to Wickens with a stop on Lap 46, and that lead was down to 1.7sec.
Meanwhile further back, Newgarden on reds was gaining on Bourdais’ primary-tired Coyne for third, while Dixon and Rossi were close to Penske’s championship leader.
Power was onto Wickens’ tail at the end of Lap 48, but the SPM driver responded well, with judicious use of Push to Pass, and with defensive lines into the hard braking zones of Turn 1 and 7.
Finally at the start of Lap 51, Power made a move around the outside at Turn 1, and Wickens – after a reasonable attempt to retaliate – had to give up the lead.
Four laps later, it was another silver Penske, that of Newgarden, trying to make a pass and it was on Bourdais for third place. Newgarden made the move at the Turn 12 chicane but from too far back. He clipped the high curb, spun himself into a stall, and triggered a full-course caution.
Everyone took the opportunity to pit, and while Power emerged ahead of Wickens, the Ganassi #9 crew did a great job to vault Dixon ahead of Bourdais, Rossi, Castroneves, Hinchcliffe, Rahal, Pagenaud and Jones. All were on reds, but all were wondering if they could make it to the end on a tank of fuel.
A sensible and clean restart on Lap 62 left the drivers in the same order, but on Lap 63, Rossi got around Bourdais on the back straight, and at the start of Lap 64, Dixon passed Wickens for second. The other Ganassi had far worse fortune, Jones picking up a puncture and having to pit.
Power had a lead of 1sec over Dixon by Lap 67, when the fight between Wickens and Rossi for third place started getting serious.
Newgarden passed Hunter-Reay and Andretti in one maneuver on Lap 71, as Andretti also took the opportunity to pass his teammate, so Newgarden was into the Top 12.
Up front, Power’s lead over Dixon was still just over 1sec at that stage but as rain started to sprinkle the track over the closing 10 laps, Power edged away a tenth or two each lap and finished 2.5sec clear.
The primary interest in the closing laps was Wickens’ attempt to retain his third place and Rossi and Bourdais’ attempt to separate the remarkable rookie from the second podium of his five-race IndyCar career. In fact, Bourdais got around Rossi for fourth, but Wickens stayed solid to grab third.
Castroneves clocked sixth on his comeback, holding on ahead of Hinchcliffe, while Pagenaud demoted Rahal in the closing stages to take eighth, with the second RLLR car Sato completing the top 10.
As well as clocking Penske’s 200th win, Power scored his third win in four years at the IMS road course, and his 33rd career victory.
IndyCar 2018 Grand Prix of Indianapolis
|12||Zachary Claman De Melo||85||30.0421|
|22||Ed Jones||84||1 lap|
|23||Zach Veach||84||1 lap|
|24||Jordan King||83||2 laps|