Power Continues Team Penske's Strong Start to 2012
April 16, 2012
Photo courtesy of Steve Swope
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 15, 2012) – Using a strategy that utilized tight fuel windows and capitalized on passing opportunities, Will Power overcame the INDYCAR grid penalty administered to all Chevrolet-powered cars on Sunday to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It was the third consecutive victory by Team Penske to start the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season and second in a row for Power, who captured the lead in the series drivers' championship with the win. His No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet started 12th but finished 0.8675 seconds ahead of hard-charging runner-up Simon Pagenaud after the 85-lap race around the 12-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit.
Polewinner Ryan Briscoe finished seventh in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske machine, while Helio Castroneves claimed 13th place in the No. 3 Automobile Club of Southern California Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet.
Using a two pit-stop strategy, Power took the lead late in the race by passing Takuma Sato on lap 71 and he created enough of a gap from the field to allow him to save fuel for the remainder of the event and earn the first-place finish.
"I thought it would be very tough to win the race," said Power. "Once again, we had a great strategy. We had to save so much fuel to get there, but we did it. I give full credit to the No. 12 Verizon crew and Chevrolet. I've been trying to win this race for four years, and now I've done it."
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, Power's race strategist, said his driver has an uncanny ability to drive fast while still getting solid fuel economy.
"You tell him what he needs to do and he does it," said Cindric. "This team never quits. We knew this race wouldn't be over until it was over. We tell him a fuel number and he knows the lap time he needs to do. Our strategy was really to make sure we had enough fuel to go to the end. It's a great day for the Verizon program."
The victory was particularly impressive since Power had to make up so much ground on the tight Long Beach street circuit following the grid penalty assessed to all Chevy cars before the race. As a result of a decision to change engines after issues were discovered in testing last week, all of the Chevy's were forced to surrender 10 starting spots on the grid. Despite that, Chevrolet claimed seven of the top 10 finishing positions on Sunday.
Briscoe followed up his pole win on Saturday with a seventh-place finish on Sunday. The 2011 runner-up at Long Beach led five laps during the race before heavy traffic and a tough pit stop prevented him from returning back to the front.
"We had an awesome car. The No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske was the quickest car out there today and just couldn't get clear of traffic," said Briscoe, who is ranked seventh in the championship standings after Sunday's finish. "Obviously the ultimate strategy of the 12 car was the way to go and it was a great win for them and Team Penske."
Castroneves also struggled to make his way up to the front because of the congestion on track. It marked the first time this season that Castroneves, the 2001 Long Beach race winner, finished outside of the top three as he fell to second in the standings, now 24 points behind Power.
"The AAA machine, we started very cautious. We lost tons of time out there behind traffic," said Castroneves, who had a couple incidents of contact during the race before being caught up in a multi-car accident on the last lap that forced him back a few spots in the finishing order. "We just have to try to do something else. Finally we were able to pass, but I had a little damage on the front wing. From there on we kept coming, bringing the car as fast as we could to see if we could get in the top 10. But we moved back to the 13th place. It is a shame because we definitely had a better car than that, but we got caught in those scenarios. We've got to keep moving on."
Power has now won seven of the last 11 IndyCar races on road and street courses, but he puts Long Beach near the top of the list.
"This is one of my best victories," said Power, who also won on the Long Beach circuit in the final Champ Car World Series race in 2007, before he joined Team Penske. "I love this. I used some fuel to get around people, but then Tim was telling me that I had to save fuel. I did everything I could to be as quick as I could while saving fuel. The result is a win."
Sunday's performance also marked the first win at Long Beach for Team Penske since Castroneves climbed the fence at the famed circuit 11 years ago.
The IZOD IndyCar Series season resumes April 29 with the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on the NBC Sports Network, the final race before the Indianapolis 500.