Photo courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series/LAT USAEnlarge Photo
After dominating last year's race from pole and winning, the Australian started ninth but came out of the pits ahead of Scott Dixon on the final round of pit stops (under caution) to bring his Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car to the checkered flags 3.370 seconds ahead of the two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion who led the most laps (38) in the 90-lap contest.
This was the third straight time--in three trips to the Barber Motorsports Park track--that Dixon has finished second.
Power started the race on Firestone primary tires while the bulk of the field began on the red alternate rubber; he failed to tell officials his choice within the half-hour mark following qualifying on Saturday and was therefore relegated to the series' choice for him. Staying mid-pack for the first part of the contest, Power kept his poise. Able to run the red, alternate Firestone tire for the rest of the race, Power was on fire. He held off Dixon on the final of two restarts to earn the win.
"That was an awesome race," Power said. "Tim Cindric (strategist) keep putting me in such a good position so we could use our speed. That last restart was kind of hairy. I knew Scott was going to be really quick and he hounded me for a couple of laps there. It's good to get the No. 12 car in Victory Lane with a Chevy engine. It was awesome."
On this hot day in Leeds, Alabama, the Indy cars got into it from the start, as pole man Helio Castroneves led the field to green in the traditional two-by-two manner fans love to see. Last week's winner would lead for the first 24 laps but eventually ceded to others during the first round of pit stops. Dixon took over for the first time on lap 27 and his Team Target Honda-powered car was on point all afternoon.
Dixon was balked coming into the pits and pulling his final time out and, like many today had problems with the right rear tire change, making his a slow stop. Now taking his second straight runner-up finish Dixon said, "I think today we did a good job. We got caught up there in some traffic in the pit, the pit sequence kind of got us there. I think we're starting to get on something with this car, so hopefully in the few races we might be looking at the top spot of the podium?"
Castroneves would lead 28 laps and finish third in this race, a yawing 19-plus seconds behind his Team Penske teammate Power. Castroneves found the race very difficult, as he overused his tires a bit in taking pole. "It paid off starting from the pole position, but it hurt me a little bit in the race. I thought it was a great battle and I think that's what racing is all about. I want to apologize to (James) Hinchcliffe; my car was already bad with those reds and as soon as we restarted the race, it pushed so bad that we kind of squeezed him. I felt terrible."
Graham Rahal, driving a Honda-powered Ganassi Racing DW12 had promised to visit the Lady in the Lake sculpture, swim out to her should he win this race. Would have been fun to see but Rahal settled for fourth. The second generation driver was pleased with his day: "We made no mistakes and that's what it's all about; at the end of the day we had a really solid finish," he said.
The amazing Simon Pagenaud was one of many Honda-powered drivers to pull off passes on the inside and outside of turns that had the crowd on its feet. It was obvious that "this car was probably the fastest one out there today. It's good to see that we can produce such a great job with a one-car team and to fight with the Penske and Ganassi teams. I'm very proud to be part of this team," he said. Pagenaud drove in this race last year in relief of Ana Beatriz, finishing eighth.
James Hinchcliffe lost out in the pits the final call after starting third and had to restart on the final caution on the outside; he finished sixth in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Chevy-powered Indy car. Mike Conway brought AJ Foyt's Honda-powered mount home in seventh place - and on Firestone primary tires in the final segment, one of a very few to use them in the last part of the race.
Rubens Barrichello is getting the hang of driving an Indy car and took eighth place this afternoon; the most experienced Formula 1 driver in history executed passes beautifully around the 2.38-mile, 17-corner circuit. "I need to say thank you to the crew for my first top-10 finish. By the end of the race," he said, "I had one of the fastest running cars so I think it was enjoyable to watch and for me to race. People race hard over here but they were fair," Barrichello related.
In fact, passing on this racetrack, which was designed for motorcycles and was reportedly too slim for the Indy cars occurred throughout today's contest. One of the best at moving up the field was four-time Champ Car titleholder Sebastien Bourdais, who finished an amazing ninth in his Lotus-powered Dragon Racing car after starting 17th. He was followed to the checkers by reigning INDYCAR champion Dario Franchitti, who began the race one spot behind Bourdais, showing that passing is something you can do on this track.
There were only two cautions in this race, the first coming when Alex Tagliani's Lotus engine expired on lap 1 and the second occurring late in the going for Katherine Legge's "off" in the ninth corner (lap 66). Only three drivers were classified as non-finishers: Tagliani, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato, the latter two suffering problems with their Honda-powered cars.
After two of 16 races, Castroneves leads the points with 86, followed by Dixon (84), Power with 77, Hinchliffe has 60, Pagenaud 58, Ryan Hunter-Reay 53, Rahal 50, Ryan Briscoe 46, Conway 38 and Barrichello founds out the top 10 with 37 points. Chevy leads the manufacturers championship with 18, Honda has 12 and Lotus now has eight points. Pagenaud handily leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings (58 points) over Josef Newgarden (32) and Legge, 24.
The Indy cars have a week to recuperate from two early season races in a row before heading to the city of Long Beach and the 38th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.