Will Power announced his return after his injury layoff with a hard-earned win in a spectacular, rain-interrupted, IndyCar Series season opener in Brazil.
The race had to be halted for nearly 45 minutes due to a massive downpour over the new Sao Paulo street track and, when it resumed, Power and his Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe mounted an epic battle for the lead with Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power ultimately emerged on top ahead of Hunter-Reay while Briscoe crashed out of the lead. Vitor Meira completed the podium with a heroic drive for A.J. Foyt's team – as he too returned following serious back injuries.
The race was chaotic from the moment the green flag fell, with KV's debutant Takuma Sato braking too late for the first corner and punting Scott Dixon (Ganassi) into a spin. Helio Castroneves (Penske) then collected Dixon's stranded car, although both were able to resume after repairs – unlike Sato. But the biggest crash happened in the background, as Sato's teammate Mario Moraes rode over the back of Marco Andretti and remained perched on top of the Andretti Autosport car through the first chicane. It took several minutes to remove the KV Dallara and extricate Andretti, who was unhappy but unhurt.
After an eight-lap yellow, Franchitti led away, with qualifying star Alex Tagliani hanging on to second for the new FAZZT team until lap 19, when Hunter-Reay dived ahead at the last corner. His teammate Tony Kanaan completed the breakaway front group at this stage – second row starter Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold) having had to pit with tire damage on lap one, while Dan Wheldon carved through the early carnage to emerge in fifth for Panther.
Most of the field pitted when the yellow was called to retrieve Milka Duno's parked Dale Coyne car on lap 21, but HVM's rookie Simona de Silvestro stayed out and gained the lead. She held her own up front for a lap after the restart, while Hunter-Reay overtook Franchitti for second and then grabbed the lead from de Silvestro on the next lap. In their wake, Wheldon tagged the rear of Tagliani's car at the end of the back straight and sent the Canadian into Kanaan, ending the FAZZT team's debut.
Shortly afterward, the heavens opened over Sao Paulo, and with multiple spins and Alex Lloyd (Dale Coyne) aquaplaning into the wall, the field ran under yellow for several laps before the amount of standing water convinced the officials to put out the red flag to allow the shower to pass. Everyone had taken wets prior to the stoppage, with a well-timed pit stop getting Power up to second between Hunter-Reay and Franchitti.
However, Hunter-Reay and Power were among a group of drivers who decided to return to slicks during the pace car laps prior to the restart just over half an hour later, meaning the wet-shod Franchitti, Dixon, Mike Conway and Wilson led away when racing resumed.
Hunter-Reay's swift progress back through the field proved that slicks were now the right choice, though, and as the frontrunners all pitted over the ensuing laps, the American ended up back in front, with a comfortable lead over Raphael Matos (Luczo Dragon/de Ferran), Briscoe and Power, who had all followed the same tire strategy.
The Penske duo overtook Matos and quickly chased down Hunter-Reay. Briscoe grabbed the lead into the final corner on lap 50, only for Hunter-Reay to squeeze back down the inside and reclaim the place into the first chicane. Next time around, Briscoe repeated his last-corner move and this time Hunter-Reay could not respond – but it did not matter as two laps later Briscoe braked too late into Turn 5 and skated into the tires. That prompted a full-course yellow, after which just six minutes of racing were left before the event hit its time limit.
Although Hunter-Reay made a great restart and initially edged away from Power, the Penske driver reeled the leader back in and, with four minutes on the clock, he slipped down the inside at the end of the mile-long straight and grabbed a lead he would not lose.
Behind them, Meira claimed a brilliant third, having also taken on slicks prior to the restart and then battled past Wheldon and Matos in the closing stages. Matos held on to fourth under immense pressure from Wheldon, the Ganassi duo, Conway, Castroneves, Wilson and the recovering Kanaan.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Will Power Penske 2h00m57.7112s
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 1.8581s
3. Vitor Meira Foyt + 9.7094s
4. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon/de Ferran + 10.4235s
5. Dan Wheldon Panther + 10.8883s
6. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 11.3473s
7. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 12.0579s
8. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold + 12.1654s
9. Helio Castroneves Penske + 12.7411s
10. Tony Kanaan Andretti + 13.4850s
11. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 13.9193s
12. EJ Viso KV + 16.9039s
13. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 19.6451s
14. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 1m14.9191s
15. Danica Patrick Andretti + 1 lap
16. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 3 laps
Mario Romancini Conquest 46 laps
Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 30 laps
Alex Tagliani FAZZT 28 laps
Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas/Lanigan 27 laps
Milka Duno Dale Coyne 20 laps
Takuma Sato KV 0 laps
Marco Andretti Andretti 0 laps
Mario Moraes KV 0 laps