Will Power extended his IZOD IndyCar Series lead by winning at Infineon Raceway a year after breaking his back in a practice crash at the circuit.
The Penske driver resisted huge late pressure from Ganassi's Scott Dixon to clinch his fifth victory of the season, having yesterday taken a series-record eighth pole position, in the final road course event of the year.
Power's win, supplemented by the three bonus points, gives the Team Penske driver a 59-point advantage over Dario Franchitti – who finished third – with four oval races left in the season. Power, who watched the race in '09 from a hospital bed after suffering a season-ending back injury in a practice crash, is the sixth different winner in as many IndyCar Series races at Infineon.
"It's unreal. What a perfect weekend,” Power said. “I just have to thank the Verizon guys and Roger (Penske) and Tim (Cindric) for giving me this opportunity. To come back and win it from the pole is just fantastic. I've said it all season, I wanted to come back here and win this race.”
In an entertaining race that saw the difference between the two Firestone tire compounds produce plenty of intrigue and place-swapping down the order, Power was always able to control events from the front, leading by eight seconds at one stage. But, in the final stint, Dixon became the only man all day to put Power under real pressure. The double champion passed his Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti – who, unlike Power and Dixon, was on the harder "black" tires – for second, then was brought onto Power's tail by a late yellow.
For the first few laps after the restart Dixon was all over the back of Power's car, before the Australian started to pull out some breathing space – although his winning margin was just 0.7sec. Franchitti retained third ahead of Penske's Ryan Briscoe, who jumped to second with an early first pit stop but lost out to the Ganassi duo at the last stops.
“The unfortunate part is that we really only get one set of stickers for the race with the red tires,” said Dixon. “They were night and day quicker, so we had to take used at the end.
“We really needed to be ahead of the 12 car, and I pushed it as hard as I could at the end. I just couldn't even get close enough to have a look. He was definitely hooked up and saving his tires earlier in the day.”
Teammate Franchitti lost another five points to Power by losing the runner-up slot late in the race, but reckoned he'd done the best he could.
“We did the best with what we had today,” he said. “We took a gamble on blacks at the end and it didn't work for us. Scott was definitely quicker on reds and I let him go there, hoping he was going to hunt down Will. Scott really tried to get past him. There was such a speed difference on the blacks that we couldn't get close to them at the end.”
Front row starter Helio Castroneves (Penske) dropped to fifth during the race, resisting Dreyer & Reinbold's Justin Wilson and Andretti Autosport duo Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Graham Rahal drove well to come through from 16th on the grid to ninth for Newman/Haas, while behind him Dale Coyne Racing's Alex Lloyd survived the day's most chaotic battle to take 10th.
Raphael Matos (De Ferran Dragon) had been in line for the position for a while, until he became entangled with Conquest's Bertrand Baguette and KV's EJ Viso as they tried to follow Takuma Sato (KV) past him. Sato then got involved in a late collision with Danica Patrick, which left the Andretti driver furious, and ensured Lloyd could claim 10th.
Collisions with both Matos and Viso left impressive qualifier Simona de Silvestro only 13th for HVM. She finished between Marco Andretti – who ran second for a while on an alternative pit strategy but later collided with JR Hildebrand, ending the Dreyer & Reinbold substitute's race – and second row starter Alex Tagliani, whose FAZZT car fell off the pace as the tires wore in the first stint. He lost several positions from his early fourth before picking up a puncture.
But the most dramatic incident of the day happened even before the start, when Dan Wheldon was sent rolling after wheels became interlocked as drivers prepared for the green. The Panther driver was unhurt.
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Will Power Penske 75 laps
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 0.7432s
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 6.6132s
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 7.8607s
5. Helio Castroneves Penske + 10.4594s
6. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 10.9095s
7. Tony Kanaan Andretti + 11.5246s
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 11.8938s
9. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas + 17.5019s
10. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne + 18.2069s
11. Mario Moraes KV + 20.2411s
12. Marco Andretti Andretti + 20.6759s
13. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 21.8239s
14. Alex Tagliani FAZZT + 22.4858s
15. Vitor Meira Foyt + 24.2879s
16. Danica Patrick Andretti + 46.1339s
17. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas + 1 lap
18. Takuma Sato KV + 1 lap
19. EJ Viso KV + 1 lap
20. Francesco Dracone Conquest + 4 laps
21. Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon + 8 laps
22. Milka Duno Dale Coyne + 8 laps
Bertrand Bagutte Conquest 65 laps
JR Hildebrand Dreyer & Reinbold 38 laps
Dan Wheldon Panther 0 laps