Will Power laid to rest the ghosts of last year’s heartbreaking defeat to win the final Detroit Grand Prix to be held at Belle Isle.
The Australian, who started 16th, drove a near-perfect race as he made hay in the race’s opening stages before holding off Alex Rossi’s late advances to take the 39th win of his IndyCar career and the 100th for Chevrolet as a supplier.
The final Detroit Grand Prix to be held on the iconic Belle Isle circuit before the race moves to the city’s centre from 2023 and beyond would feature a mixed-up grid as some of the pre-race contenders would have to fight from the midfield for a shot of the podium.
One championship contender who qualified well was Josef Newgarden started from pole for the 16th time in his IndyCar career. Newgarden would be joined on the front row by Takuma Sato after the Japanese veteran crept onto the front row after a series of quick laps in both the fast 12 and fast six sections of Qualifying, briefly putting himself on the pole until Newgarden managed to ping his final lap to break Dale Coyne hearts.
Row two was an all Meyer Shank affair with Simon Pagenaud out-qualifying Helio Castroneves, whilst Indy 500 runner up Pato O’Ward would line up on row three alongside the improving David Malukas, who started sixth, securing the best Qualifying result of his young IndyCar career.
Colton Herta would be on row four alongside Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson whilst row five would be a battle of the Kiwis as Scott Dixon would start ninth ahead of Scott McLaughlin.
Romain Grosjean could only manage 12th after crashing on his final run in the fast 12; Power was a lowly 16th, whilst Alex Palou would have plenty of work to do from 18th. The much under fire Felix Rosenqvist had the most work to do of all the big players as he started 26th after not being able to set a final qualifying lap in group one of Qualifying after he picked up a drive-through penalty for interference. Dalton Kellett didn’t set a time in Qualifying but was allowed to start the race.
When the green flag dropped, Newgarden got a near-perfect launch at the start, with Pagenaud passing Sato on the inside of Turn 1 whilst Castroneves followed suit later on the lap as the field jockeyed for position.
Rossi was one of the big movers during the first four laps of the race, moving from 11th to sixth; whilst further back, his former teammate Graham Rahal cruised into retirement after clattering the Turn two wall on only the second lap.
The Californian briefly halted his charge by switching to the primary tyres on Lap five, rejoining in front of fellow early stopper Veekay, albeit the Dutchman had to endure a slower slop.
Next to stop was Malukas on Lap seven, with Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci also coming in to get rid of the rapidly fading alternative compound of tyre.
Sato continued to lose positions hand over fist as his alternative compound of tyres continued to degrade, losing three positions in the space of a lap, dropping the Japanese veteran to seventh before switching to the primary compound one lap later.
O’Ward was also suffering on the alternatives, falling to ninth after running as high as fourth; meanwhile, Power cleared Castroneves to move into third which then became second on Lap 12 after clearing Pagenaud.
With his tyres now fully up to temperature, Power slotted past Newgarden on the run down Turn three to take the lead on Lap 14; elsewhere, Newgarden’s woes were compounded after Dixon and Palou slipped through on the same lap, relegating the polesitter to fourth.
That became sixth three laps as Kirkwood and Rossi slipped by whilst Castroneves and Grosjean pitted for the primary tyres. Pagenaud stopped one lap later for the same tyres.
McLaughlin threw away any chance of making his strategy work after locking up down the escape road at Turn three, hitting the tyres as he struggled to find first gear. Elsewhere Newgarden, Ericsson, O’Ward and Herta stopped for primaries.
Castroneves was back in again on Lap 23 for an unscheduled pitstop as the Brazilian lost drive on the back straight, consigning him to retirement.
Kirkwood stopped on Lap 24 for a second set of primaries whilst Rossi pitted one lap later but banged the wall on the pit exit making his number 27 Napa machine a real handful to drive on his out lap.
Power was back in for another set of primaries on Lap 26, getting back out in front of Veekay and Malukas whilst crucially only being twenty seconds back on messers Palou and Dixon, who pitted one lap later, handing the lead back to the Australian. As the race hit half distance, Power led by over eight seconds from Dixon, Palau and Rossi, who was holding fourth over Kirkwood and Newgarden as the leaders continued to lap the tailenders.
Rossi then got past Palou for third on Lap 39 as the American continued his surge through the order hunting down and passing Dixon for second four laps later with a gutsy move into Turn three.
With just over 25 laps to go, Palou came in for his final tyre stop putting on yet another set of primary rubber, as Dixon, Newgarden and O’Ward all followed suit one lap later, jumping the Spaniard.
Next to stop was Rossi for another set of primaries, and after some quick work from his Andretti Autosport mechanics, the American was able to get out in fourth ahead of Dixon.
Kirkwood fell out of the top six when he came in for his final stop putting on the alternative compound, narrowly correcting a slide, but consequently, he kissed the wall damaging his left front suspension and ending a terrific drive.
Race leader Power pitted for the final time on Lap 50, and despite suffering a slow stop, he retained his lead and crucially now had some breathing room as Rossi remained stuck behind Kellett, who was being lapped for the second time as Power suffered his own traffic problems locking up when trying to lap DeFrancesco.
As if being held up by slower cars wasn’t bad enough, Power’s alternative tyres were falling apart in the final three laps giving Rossi a window of opportunity to snatch his first win for three years as the gap continued to close.
But Rossi ran out of time as Power clung to win his first race of the year with Dixon a distant third ahead of Newgarden, O’Ward and Palou.
Veekay’s unhappy race ended in the barrier at Turn five, overshooting the corner and planting his number 21 machine into the tyre barrier; meanwhile, race winner Power ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap, forcing him to receive a push from the marshals to get him into a packed victory lane.
In the post-race press conference, Power discussed how stressful it was for him to keep Rossi behind in the race’s final laps.
“Obviously very satisfying. Redemption from last year. Yeah, the last stint, it was good because it had such a gap. On the out lap, it was really nice. You can do a bit of damage on the cold tires. I was really cognizant of not slipping the tire too much. Then just got in a rhythm and drove it really straight, really straight. (It) can be very quick that way. Just a certain way you can drive when tires are like that.”
“The fact that the track had rubbered so much looked after them. They never, like, dropped, and I was like, Oh, my God. I just looked after them in case there was a battle at the end. If I had to go hard at the end, I think I could have.”
Although he was pleased with second, Rossi admitted that he was disappointed not to get closer to Power in the race’s closing stages, believing that circumstances prevented him from passing the Australian.
“It was hard at the end. Obviously, with the three-stop, we knew it was just basically a qualifying run for 70 laps type of thing. The team did an amazing job, and the NAPA AutoNation Honda was fantastic. We thought we had a car to be in the front yesterday, and circumstances prevented that. It’s good to get the car where it should have been and have a shot there at the end.”
“Obviously, Will did a fantastic job on a tire that has a lot of falloff at the end. We did our best to kind of manage the pace and go for it at the end, but we were probably a lap short.”