It had been 25 races (16 months) since Will Power had won a race. Coming into the 2013 season, Power and his Verizon/Penske race team had high hopes to contend for the championship, after finishing 2nd each of the last two seasons. Unfortunately, this season has been nothing if not frustrating. Power and the team ran into more than their fair share of “bad luck” and found themselves almost mathematically eliminated from any championships hopes.
But this race at the Sonoma Raceway gave them some hope. Power came into the 2013 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma as the only multiple event winner, having won two of the last three years. After suffering a near career ending accident at this same event in 2009, he bounced back to win the event in 2010 and 2011. Power would have won for a third consecutive time in 2012 (last year) had he not used the “push to pit” control button instead of the “pit to pass” by mistake during the final two laps, all but handing the race to his (then Penske team mate) Ryan Briscoe. It was not going to be easy, as the Target/Chip Ganassi team, led by 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 4-time IZOD Indy Series Champion, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon (2nd in the 2013 series championship point battle), Power only managed to qualified 3rd. Franchitti took the top qualifying honors, while Dixon made it an all Target/Chip Ganassi front row by qualifying 2nd. When the green flag fell, signifying the start of the race, Power quickly found himself jostled back to 5th behind Franchitti, Dixon, Ryan Brisco and (team mate and 2013 series point leader) Helio Castroneves. But, this was “Will’s track” and he knew it. Using all of his skills and “will”, he quickly powered his way back towards the front. Following several cautions and pit stops, Power found himself trailing only Dixon. As they both completed their final pits stops on lap 63, Dixon was able to beat Power off pit lane. In the process, Dixon exited his pit box a little too close to Power, actually partially entering Power’s pit area box. In the process, Dixon inadvertently made contact with one of Power’s Penske team pit crew members, knocking him down. Another crew member was knocked down when the airline to the air powered lug wrenches wrapped around his legs and flipped him in the air. Though bruised and sore, neither pit crew member suffered any serious injuries. Because he hit the crew member with his car, Dixon was assessed a “stop and go” penalty lap 71, following a video review by Indy car officials. Due to this penalty, Power now assumed the race lead and never looked back, winning the event by 1.193 seconds over 2nd place Justin Wilson. Franchitti would end up finishing 3rd.
The penalty assessed on Dixon would cause quite a bit of stir amongst the Target/Chip Ganassi drivers, as it cost Dixon any chance he had to win the event and caused him to fall another 6 points behind the series point leader, Helio Castroneves following his 15th place finish (eight positions behind Castroneves).
Both the Target/Chip Ganassi drivers were upset. Scott Dixon was the most upset and issued the statement during a TV post-race interview, “It looks like he (Verizon Team Penske crew member Travis Law) walked straight into our car. You could see where the other car in front of us was pitted and he walked into us, on purpose. That’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time. If you watch most pit guys, they try and get out of the way of other people. It’s pretty annoying because we had a pretty good Target car all day long and if they want to try and win like that, then that’s pretty bad. I had a straight line heading out of the pits and he just walked right into us. You also look at the calls people make and what they did in Race Control, so I look forward to hearing what that was all about. The consistency here is horrible.”
The IZOD Indy Car officials (Race Director Beaux Barfield) saw if completely different. “Ultimately, we have a duty to protect everybody in the pit lane. If we have somebody who uses less than great judgment when they leave their pit box and we have an incident, then we have to make a statement by penalizing. And we’re going to make that call. There are a couple different (video) angles, and clearly the #9 car (driven by Dixon) crosses right into the #12 car’s (driven by Power) space and that’s where the violation occurred. He (Dixon) was in the #12 car’s box for a good half-car length.”
Controversy aside, Power drove a great race and set the fastest in-race lap on lap 74 at 107.416 mph (79.932 second lap).
Will Power was in good spirits during post-race interviews, as he hoped the win would be a sign of things to come. “We’ve had a lot of hard hits and I’m just happy for all the guys. It’s just phenomenal, it’s great for our confidence and we’re back in our winning ways. (Referencing not letting the winless streak get to him) “I learned about myself this year. I just kept at it, and I’m just stoked for all the guys from Verizon, Meijer, Quicken Loans, all the guys that make it possible. I’m living a dream.”
With the win, Powers has further distanced himself from all the other drivers who have raced and won at Sonoma in the Indy car series. No other driver has won more than once at Sonoma.
Controversy, on track race drama, plenty of lead changes…what more could you ask for. The race can be recorded as nothing short of great entertainment for the fans.
The next event on the IZOD Indy Car Series is the Grand Prix of Baltimore on September 1st.Helio Castroneves leads the championship point’s race by 39 points over Scott Dixon.
Oakdale Leader correspondents Mike and Jeff Burghardt contributed to this report.