Power keeps Rahal at bay to win Detroit Race 1

Power keeps Rahal at bay to win Detroit Race 1

31 May 2014 – Will Power fended off a charging Graham Rahal to win the first race at Belle Isle in the Dual at Detroit on Saturday. Coming from P16 on the grid, Power's Penske team employed a clever pit-stop strategy to get ahead of pole-sitter Helio Castroneves, and with some helpful caution periods, Power found himself leading the field with ten laps to go, and he never looked back.

After starting in P9, Rahal drove a flawless race, tracking down Power in the closing stages of the first Dual but ultimately being unable to get by on the bumpy road course. Satisfied with a rare podium finish, Rahal hopes to do one better tomorrow for the second race of the weekend.

Also finding his way to the podium was 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan. The Brazilian had started the race just in front of Rahal and managed to stay clean on several dicey restarts on the afternoon, finishing five seconds behind the American.

Fellow Brazilian Castroneves led the field to the green flag after stalling in pit lane at the start of the formation lap. IndyCar rules allow the car to resume its position if it can reach its rightful grid spot before the field completes one pace lap. With that hiccup out of his system, Castroneves led the first third of the race before two caution periods began to divide the field on pit strategy.

With many drivers originally opting for a three-stop strategy, a fascinating battle began to develop after Simon Pagenaud was squeezed into a wall by Power to bring out the first caution. The second one was thrown when Mike Conway, who was running in fourth at the time, understeered into the wall, ending his race. The dejected Bromley native climbed from his car and rested against the barrier, head in his hands and looking a little sore from the impact.

By the end of the second caution, all of the field had pitted except Rahal and Marco Andretti. Jack Hawksworth, who had been running P2 after jumping Hinchcliffe at the start, disappointingly saw his left front brake rotor break, so he was sent tumbling down the order and was soon five laps down. He would be one of several drivers to be stuck in pit lane for various mechanical reasons, thus pushing him out of contention.

Rahal was the first to pit on Lap 27, switching from black to red tyres, with Andretti following suit the next time around the Belle Isle circuit. It appeared that these two were going to attempt a two-stop strategy, unlike most of the rest of the field. This handed the lead to Power, who remained on a three-stop, albeit a few laps different than Castroneves. Helio would inherit the lead around the midway point of the race after Power pitted on Lap 31.

A few laps later, Josef Newgarden found his way into the tyre wall. In doing so, the standing water inside the rubber sloshed out on track, lengthening what would have been a short caution so the jet driers could clean the racing surface.

Around this point, it appeared that the two-stoppers would have the advantage since most of the leaders had pitted 20 laps earlier. By the time the track went green, numbers were being crunched up and down the pit lane to determine fuel loads and various permutations.

Some, like Ryan Briscoe, chose to bet on another caution coming late in the race, but when Mikhail Aleshin was spun by James Hinchcliffe with 15 laps to go, it looked like Briscoe and several others would fall just short of their fuel marks.

Castroneves had just made his stop on Lap 47, so the caution was actually quite detrimental to his strategy, but he managed to work his way back up to P5 by the end of the race. 

Will Power had pitted on Lap 54, just one lap before the last caution came out, which meant that he was soon back into the top five when the rest of the field pitted for the last time. When Briscoe stayed out and took the green flag on the restart, Power eventually managed to get around him (even though he knew Briscoe would have to pit).

By putting the Penske car between him and Rahal, Power was able to build a lead that turned out to be insurmountable, despite Rahal closing to within a couple of lengths after Briscoe pitted. Even having one more Push-to-Pass to use on the final lap, Rahal couldn't get by the Aussie and finished just 0.3s back as Power collected his second win of the year – thus awarding him second in the championship standings.

Championship leader Ryan Hunter-Reay started the race on the last row after hitting the wall in qualifying.  He led some laps after a long stint on black tyres, but he would only manage P16 at the chequered flag.

Race 2 of the Dual at Detroit will take place at the same time tomorrow.

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