BELLE ISLE, Mich — Will Power was fastest in the only NTT IndyCar Series practice session around the 2.35-mile Belle Isle street course this weekend. He did so on Friday. On Saturday morning, he qualified his No. 12 Chevrolet seventh for the opening of two races this weekend in the park located in the middle of the Detroit River.
Power, knew that the cars in front would likely go off strategy. Pato O’Ward pit from the lead on Lap 3. Colton Herta would do so on Lap 4. Alexander Rossi followed both down on Lap 5. Romain Grosjean did the same on Lap 6. Josef Newgarden pit on Lap 4 but had an issue and had to come back in when his left rear tire flew off.
Power, followed Ed Jones and was running second on Lap 6. But, Jones’ alternate tires were falling way off. Power, was able to manage his better and he would move to the lead on Lap 7. The thing is, Scott Dixon was on the primary tires and hauling ass.
Dixon, reached Power a few laps later and with Power wanting to stretch his Firestone Reds, he let Dixon go. The Team Penske driver was settling in but needed some help. There was the two stop vs. three stop strategies but a varying degree on plans among the three stoppers.
You had the initial group who had already pit vs. Power and a few others. Power, was leading that group when he first hit pit road on Lap 20. He went with scuffed blacks. Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci were on the two stopper but their days were ruined when Felix Rosenqvist crashed on Lap 25 which brought out a lengthy red flag for repairs to the tire barriers as well as the concrete wall.
That caution and subsequent red flag helped Power. That’s exactly what he needed. He was in 10th place at the time but the top nine was going to have to pit. That handed the lead to Power. The race was essentially was his.
Then came the second caution which ended up being the second red flag of the race too.
Grosjean got into the Turn 9 wall on Lap 64. There were six laps left and in most circumstances, the series would let this race run out under caution. But, there’s the rare instances that some times the race gets red flagged to ensure a green flag finish.
It’s happened before. In fact, it happened here a few years ago.
Power, well he was still in control, but his No. 12 Chevrolet wouldn’t refire. He’d go from the lead and the best shot at a win to finishing 20th in a matter of minutes.
“I’m mad at INDYCAR because I’m the first guy on pit road and they wait for the last car to come to get a fan on that car and it roasts the ECU,” Power told the broadcast after the race. “The guys up there in race control never listen to any drivers. They never listen. They don’t care. We give them so many good suggestions and they don’t care. Like I’m screaming on the radio to get a fan because the ECU always overheats. You’re working your ass off for this sport, so much money goes into it and just dumb decisions like that. If it’s not dumb yellows they throw, it’s some stupid idea like this or red flags.”
There’s two layers to this. First, was the red flag in the end fair?
“I understand they want to end on green. I bet you if I was Will, I’d be telling you no. I feel for him, man,” said third place finisher Pato O’Ward. “The guy, I’m pretty sure he was the one leading. I think he would have walked away with it if it didn’t go red. It really sucks.
“Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t the one winning the race or anything, so I don’t really care if it was one or the other. For me it was good because I got a couple more spots.”
Well, while some may like it and some may not, according to the rule book, it is fair. INDYCAR has the discretion to stop a race if they feel like they can restart the race again and go to the finish. In this case, the cleanup for Grosjean’s crash wasn’t going to be too terribly lengthy. Would it exceed the final six laps to finish this race? Most likely. But, if you red flag it, you can get the debris cleared off and return to action for a possible thrilling finish.
This is an entertainment business and a green flag finish if you can get one is more thrilling than under yellow.
While I get some may wonder what’s the difference between the crash that ended last year’s Indy 500, well there’s a big disparity. Spencer Pigot badly damaged the pit attenuator. It was going to take a very long time to clean that up. There was debris scattered everywhere. This crash was far different. If it was going to be a lengthy cleanup in this scenario, I fully believe INDYCAR wouldn’t have red flagged the race.
But, with this situation being different, INDYCAR chose to red flag it. They did so a few years ago in the second race of the weekend, so they remained consistent.
That’s the key. Consistency. It seems like so long as the clean up isn’t too much, then the series will red flag the race if it’s win a predetermined window at the end.
So, was it fair? I get the drama surrounding it, but according to the rule book, it is. The part that I can see being frustrating is the cooling aspect on pit road as the Aeroscreen makes things so hot inside of the cockpits. How much did that play into Power’s issue of refiring?
Power says that it was more of that causing the ECU failure and not necessarily the caution.
That’s all new still and one that will be studied on how to handle this further I’m sure.
Still, watch out for Power on Sunday. He’s angry and an angry Will Power is a dangerous one for the competition. Plus, in the last four second races of the Belle Isle doubleheader weekend, Power has finished first, third, second and third respectively.