ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Verizon IndyCar Series fans clamored for a return to Road America. Their wish was granted in spades today, with Will Power winning an intense and exciting KOHLER Grand Prix on the iconic permanent road course.
Power led 46 of the 50 laps around the 4.014-mile circuit in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, but was hounded late by a charging Tony Kanaan in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.
Power held off Kanaan at the finish by 0.7429 of a second following a Lap 44 restart to win his second straight race in the 2016 season and the 27th of his 11-year Indy car career, tying the Australian with Johnny Rutherford for 13th place on the career victories list.
“You always dread that late restart, but I thought, ‘I’m going to make the absolute most of it and do the best I can and try to get a jump.'” Power said. “I knew I had push-to-pass in hand, which I thought before the race is going to be the key here, to keep that for the end, and that’s what I did.
“Very satisfying race. Very satisfying because I felt like I’m back where I was, and that’s a good feeling for me.”
Today’s race was the 26th at Road America but the first since 2007 on the track steeped in Indy car history with past winners bearing names the likes of Andretti, Fittipaldi, Sullivan, Franchitti and Zanardi. The Verizon IndyCar Series was welcomed back by what Road America president and general manager George Bruggenthies called a record crowd for any event in the venue’s history.
By finishing second, Kanaan notched his best result in six Road America races and best finish of 2016. He battled Graham Rahal much of the day before pulling away from Rahal’s No. 15 Gehl/D-A Lubricant Honda at the end.
“Will (Power) did a really good job of saving his push-to-passes until the last lap,” said Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and 15-time race winner. “We had the red (alternate) tires (in the closing laps), which was a little quicker and we were just chasing Will down. Towards the end, we had one push-to-pass which gave us extra power, but he had three so he had an advantage on us. But what a great race.”
Rahal earned his second third-place finish in as many races at Road America. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver led two laps during an early pit stop sequence, but suffered the consequences of a different tire strategy by not saving his one new set of Firestone alternates until the end of the race.
“It’s great to get a good result,” Rahal said. “I’m pleased with what we did today and accomplished for the Gehl team. We just made the wrong tire call and it definitely hurt. It is what it is and we still came out of here third.”
Championship leader Simon Pagenaud also led two laps in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet and was in second place with five laps to go until an engine issue dropped him to a 13th-place finish. Pagenaud’s lead after nine completed races is 74 points over teammate Helio Castroneves. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon dropped from second to fourth in the championship after a mechanical issue ended the No. 9 Clorox Chevrolet driver’s day in 22nd place.
“We had a really good race going in this wonderful setting at Road America,” Pagenaud said. “The atmosphere was perfect, the race strategy was perfect. It’s tough when you have an opportunity and you can’t maximize it in the championship. It’s a tough day today, but we’ll bounce back.”
Power, who sat out the season opener at St. Petersburg with an inner-ear infection, jumped four spots in the standings to third, 81 points behind Pagenaud. With seven races remaining, Power still has his sights on a second Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
“I was talking championship even before this race,” he said. “There are seven races to go and we’re still in it. There could be a 100-point swing in the last race. We have to go for it.”
Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Josef Newgarden and Spencer Pigot had impressive performances to finish eighth and ninth, respectively. Newgarden, driving with a fractured right clavicle and fracture in his right hand sustained June 12 in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway, improved more positions than any driver from start to finish (12).
“We got good points, we gained points on the guys we needed to in the championship,” Newgarden said. “I’ll try and heal up a little better for Iowa since that will be harder than this one.”
Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series race, posted his best career finish and first top 10. He was the highest finisher among the four rookies in the race.
The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 9-10. Race coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET July 10 on NBCSN.