As his fellow competitors bounced over man-made curbs and bumps, and sometimes bumbled their way through tight turns on the temporary street course at the inaugural IndyCar Baltimore Grand Prix, Will Power drove like a man out for a Sunday drive -- only faster.
Power took his Team Penske Dallara on the smoothest ride of the afternoon. He didn't brush a wall, run over a curb or make contact with anyone else's fenders.
"I didn't have any near misses," he said after averaging 75.046 mph and beating Oriol Servia to the finish of the 75-lap race by 10.2096 seconds. "The restarts and the start were a little hairy. But I didn't touch the walls. I didn't touch anything."
Instead, while others were making a parking lot out of Turn 3, where 11 cars spun or otherwise came to a stop on Lap 38 and others were making a mess of their pit strategies, Power was cruising.
"If it wasn't for Will in his rocketship, I would have won," Servia said. "Will and I were teammates early in our careers. He's always been really committed to every corner. But early in his career he crashed a lot. Now, unfortunately for everyone else, he's got an engineer he's been with for six years and is with one of the best teams in history. And now he doesn't make mistakes."
Tony Kanaan finished third, followed by Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
With back-to-back wins, Power has cut Franchitti's points lead to five with three races left. A year ago the Australian led the points race from the first race until the final race of the season, when he lost the lead and the championship to Franchitti by five points. This time, it's Power who is playing catch-up and applying the pressure.
"This is exactly what we need to do," Power said. "It's great. So to me in the championship, second means nothing. Second, third, fourth, fifth -- who cares? I want to win, you know? It's a disappointment to lose out by five points. The whole team felt like that. We had such a lead to lose. We're determined this year.
"Anything can happen, but all we can do is control what we can control and be mistake free. We need to be quick in qualifying and execute on race day. That's what we've done for the last two races. This year, I think I'm mentally better. Going through that season made me stronger. I'm very, very focused, very determined. My experience with championships is that you're never safe. If it's possible to be caught, it's possible to be caught. Dario hasn't had bad days the last few weeks -- it's just that we've had very good days."
Franchitti, a three-time champion, wasn't showing any stress.
"What's the point in getting concerned?" he asked. "It doesn't make you any quicker."
Franchitti was one of those who suffered from a mistake of pit strategy; his crew called him for a stop when he was already past the entry turn. When he finally did pit, he and Dixon, his teammate, almost collided.
"I thought he was going through and he thought I was taking the corner," Franchitti said. "We almost crashed being too nice to each other, really."
It was a different story for Servia and Kanaan, who drove from 27th to third place after a violent morning crash forced him into his backup car. Both of them pitted early, on laps 13 and 12, respectively, and again after a pileup in Turn 3, when only the leaders stayed out. The two moves put them in good position on the track later, but it also meant they had to conserve fuel.
"You cannot use more fuel than what's allotted," Servia said. "When Will was first in front of me, the first couple of laps, I didn't think he was that much faster. But then I stepped on the gas and saw that I was using a lot to close in. I thought the worse thing would be to run out of gas. So I stopped. I wasn't worried about Tony, because I knew he was in the same fuel strategy as I was."
All of it seemed to thrill the crowds that filled the grandstands and the streets inside the 2.04-mile course. The Baltimore Police Department estimated that 15,000 attended Friday and 40,000 on Saturday. No official count was available Sunday, but organizers estimated that attendance topped 150,000 for the three-day event.
It also thrilled Power, who moved into a fifth-place tie in the all-time IndyCar record book for most wins in a single season.
"This feels like one of my best wins," he said. "The atmosphere -- this is the best podium ceremony I've ever had in my career -- massive! So many people. On my cool-down lap, I looked at every stand, absolutely full. They put on the best race we have had all year, really impressed, really impressed. All it needs is a little more passing."
For two days leading up to the event, drivers and teams fretted over the diversity of the Baltimore course, pointing to its rough concrete surfaces, its smooth asphalt, its tight Turn 1, its large number of manhole covers and its technical challenges with its crowning and chicanes. Race director Brian Barnhart warned in the pre-race drivers meeting that competitors should be "extremely smart" going into the first turn, as none of the other four series competing here could maneuver it on the first lap without a crash.
Not only did the IndyCar drivers get through the turn without trouble, but there were also just two full-course cautions in the entire race.
And after the race, the only notable contribution made by the track was that it was physically demanding. Otherwise, said Servia, the track was fine.
"The pits were fine, the hairpin was just a hairpin," he said. "Even with the chicanes, it was fine. But if you ask racecar drivers, we want longer flats and faster corners. That's just our nature."
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.
BALTIMORE GRAND PRIX RESULTS Results Sunday of the Baltimore Grand Prix IZOD IndyCar Series event, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
2. (14) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
3. (27) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
4. (4) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
6. (23) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
7. (19) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
8. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
9. (12) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
10. (2) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
11. (18) Martin Plowman, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
12. (10) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
13. (24) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
14. (3) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
15. (8) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
16. (20) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 75, Running
17. (28) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 74, Running
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 73, Running
19. (17) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 73, Contact
20. (25) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 73, Running
21. (16) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 73, Running
22. (22) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 71, Running
23. (7) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 64, Mechanical
24. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 54, Handling
25. (21) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 40, Mechanical
26. (13) Giorgio Pantano, Dallara-Honda, 39, Contact
27. (11) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 37, Contact
28. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 9, Electrical
Winners average speed: 75.046
Time of Race: 02:02:19.4998
Margin of victory: 10.2096 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 16 laps
Lead changes: 7 among five drivers
Power 1 - 20, Franchitti 21, Briscoe 22, Hunter-Reay 23, Power 24 - 58 Franchitti 59, de Silvestro 60, Power 61 - 75
Point Standings Franchitti 507, Power 502, Dixon 430, Servia 367, Kanaan 340, Briscoe 328, Hunter-Reay 305, Andretti 292, Castroneves 290, Rahal 284.
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