Having secured pole position on Saturday and then waited out the rain on Sunday, Will Power held off a stiff challenge from his Andretti Autosport rivals at the start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and then pulled away at the next restart to build up an impressive six second lead over the field over the course of the first 15 laps of the race.
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Nothing, it seemed, was going to get in the way of the Australian claiming his third win at Barber Motorsports Park. Nothing, that is, right until he locked-up at the hairpin turn 6 and was unable to make the corner, running straight off the track and into the gravel.
"The Verizon Chevrolet was really fast on the wet tires and I just got in trouble in turn 5," he explained afterwards. "I keep moving my braking point further and further into the corners and I got caught going too far. It's tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere."
That cost Power the race lead, and he was fortunate that it didn't do even more harm than that. After managing not to get bogged down in the sodden gravel and missing the end of a barrier by inches as he tried to turn on wet grass, he rejoined some distance behind Ryan Hunter-Reay. As the track dried out, he was never able to seriously challenge for the lead again.
"We really didn't have the pace in the dry," he admitted. "But that sure didn't help our cause when I went off course. We may have just been a bit heavy on downforce."
Even so, Power kept plugging away and while he lost further positions during a subsequent round of pit stops, he still crossed the line in fifth replace to retain his lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, now by 18 points over Hunter-Reay.
The fact that Power made any sort of mistake on a road course surprised many, with Hunter-Reay's team mate Marco Andretti summing it up succinctly after the race: "He's human. He's beatable." Yet despite the error, Power was still streets ahead of both of his Penske team mates Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, who despite strong starts in the race both ended up well down the running order by the finish.
In Castroneves' case, his downfall came during the first round of pit stops under caution for Mikhail Aleshin being spun around by Sebastien Bourdais in turn 5. Castroneves came in to change his own worn set of wet tyres for a set of slicks, but ended up parking in the wrong pit box.
"Unfortunately I confused our pit stall with the #19 car of Justin Wilson," he admitted after finishing in 19th place. "We were pitted right beside each other and our colours were very similar. I stopped in their pit stall, which was bad, but I also had to serve a stop and go penalty. With the cautions the way they fell, I could never get a full green flag lap to serve my penalty.
"I feel so bad for the guys because that was completely on me," he added. "The Chevrolet was great today [but] this is a race we shouldn't forgot because we don't want that to happen again."
The third member of the Penske squad, former CART, F1 and NASCAR star Juan Pablo Montoya was revelling in the early wet conditions and had scythed his way up to fourth place, but at the next restart he went for a spin in turn 11 while battling with the #9 car of Scott Dixon. That saw him beached in the gravel and the recovery process left him a lap down, which he was never able to claw back. He ended in a deeply disappointing 21st position, the last man still running.
"We had a good car in the wet, I thought it did a pretty good job in the wet," said Montoya. "I had a good restart on cold tyres. We were going through the esses, and I was right behind the #9 car. He had a big moment, and I lifted then ended up having a bigger moment myself.
"I went in and I kind of referenced and measured with the wet, and I did the same thing I was doing in wet," he continued. "He lifted more than I expected and I had to lift a lot more and it started tail slapping.
"After that, something broke in the car," he added. "I don't know what happened."
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