Power, Penske Perfect in Sweep of Sonoma
Leading virtually flag to flag, Will Power led a dominating Team Penske performance Sunday at Infineon Raceway, heading teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe in a 1-2-3 finish in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Collecting the maximum possible championship points by also qualifying on the pole and leading the most laps, Power moved back into contention for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, now trailing Dario Franchitti, Sunday’s fourth-place finisher, by 26 points, with four races remaining.
Power led 71 of 75 race laps, turning the lead over to teammate Briscoe only during his two scheduled pit stops. Even a late-race caution period, due to the crash of series debutant Ho-Pin Tung, failed to present a challenge to Power, as he cruised to a 3.24-second victory over Castroneves. Finishing third, Briscoe ensured the first Team Penske 1-2-3 result since the trio became full-time teammates in 2010, and the first for the Penske organization since Nazareth Speedway in 1994.
Continuing a six-season tradition of equality and reliability, all 28 Honda-powered drivers completed 9,309 miles this weekend at Infineon without a single failure of the Honda Indy V-8 engine. It now has been two years since a Honda in-race engine failure, the last one taking place here at Sonoma in 2009.
Two-time defending series champion and current points leader Franchitti had an uneventful run to fourth, just ahead of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon. Sebastien Bourdais survived a last-lap contretemps with Giorgio Pantano to take sixth, equaling Dale Coyne Racing’s best result of the season, sixth at Toronto. Pantano was penalized for the last-lap incident, and moved to the rear of the lead lap finishers in the final results.
James Hinchcliffe led the season-high 10 rookies in the field with a seventh-place performance. Another rookie, Simon Pagenaud, finished 15th after being called in as a last-minute replacement for Simona de Silvestro, who was delayed by visa issues and unable to participate in this weekend’s event.
Will Power (#12 Team Penske Honda) started 1st, finished 1st, 5th victory of 2011 and 14th career win; first 1-2-3 finish for Team Penske since Nazareth 1994: “That is just about the best weekend you can ever have. Team Penske is back on top again. Like I said before the race, if we could finish the way we started [1-2-3], it would be the perfect weekend. Now we have a legitimate shot at the championship. This is one of those tracks I seem to click with. Road courses and street circuits are what I know, and what I’m good at, and I understand what I need to get from the car to go fast. [On three of the final four tracks being new to the series], I always enjoy going to new circuits, and that could potentially play to our strengths as we finish out the season.”
Helio Castroneves (#2 Team Penske Honda) started 2nd, finished 2nd, equals his previous best finish of 2011 (also finished 2nd at Edmonton): “No question, it’s been a roller-coaster season. We’ve definitely had our butt kicked a few times this year, but this is the best weekend of the year for the entire team. For me, it was a great race. Will [Power] was just a little bit quicker so we tried something a little different – pitted a little bit early for our run on the [harder compound] ‘black’ tires. But Will saved enough ‘push to pass’ [Honda overtake assist] and I couldn’t do much. It’s so rare to both start and finish 1-2-3, so I’m very happy for myself and the team.”
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 4th, finished 4th, 11th top-five finish of 2011, continues to lead the drivers’ championship: “I tried several times to get Ryan [Briscoe] when he’d make a small mistake, but was never able to get [far enough] alongside to make a move. From qualifying on, Team Penske clearly had an advantage over both Scott [Dixon] and myself, particularly on the [softer] ‘red’ tires. The advantage we had at Mid-Ohio is clearly gone, for whatever reason. So we have some work to do before [the next two races at] Baltimore and Japan.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “Today was an important milestone for us, it has now been two years since we’ve had an in-race engine failure for the Honda Indy V-8. Our last failure during a race, due to a chafed alternator wire, was here in 2009. Meanwhile, the championship contest is getting ever closer, which promises another exciting finish to the season, and we’re looking forward to visiting a brand new venue, Baltimore, next weekend.”