The most vocal driver about one of the NTT IndyCar Series’ most impactful rules had a flawless drive destroyed by his strongest gripe with the championship during its first race at Circuit of The Americas.
Will Power led the opening 45 laps of the inaugural INDYCAR Classic but had yet to make his final pit stop when the 60-lap race’s lone full-course caution was initiated for a crash by Felix Rosenqvist that began outside the track limits at Turn 19, which INDYCAR elected to not police.
Somewhat ironically, the Australian made his opinion known on the track limits situation earlier in the weekend, but it was a more aged Race Control decision that kickstarted Power’s downfall.
Forced to peel into pit lane after the safety car was deployed and the field was collected behind it, Power allowed his Team Penske crew to satisfy the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet’s requirement for fresh tires and fuel but dropped down the running order as competitors who already made their final stops coasted by behind the Oriol Servia-driven safety car.
A mechanical failure caused Power to never leave his pit box during the ill-timed stop and sealed the fate of his first race at COTA, but the annual advocate for a fairer solution to pitting during yellow flags found difficulty looking past INDYCAR’s current approach.
“Simply, they need to leave the pits open after a yellow,” Power told The Apex after climbing from his car. “I know that’s an awkward situation with a guy at pit entry — they couldn’t do much about that. But it just inverts the whole field.
“All the guys who had worked their ass off all week and all weekend get totally screwed and put to the back like a drive-through penalty for no reason. It’s just the worst rule in IndyCar. We’re way too competitive and teams spend way too much money to have that sort of bulls— and give a race win to someone that doesn’t deserve it.”
Given past instances of leaders not being allowed to pit under yellow until the field has been lined up behind the safety car, Power may have thought a mid-pack driver was boosted to the lead following his retirement. Contrarily, eventual winner Colton Herta had kept Power, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon in his sights all race long before those three drivers were caught out by the yellow and removed from the front of the field.
Though the race winner wasn’t plucked from the rear of the starting grid and shuffled forward with help from the yellow, Power’s grievance with the closed pits rule did aid Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti, for example, to finish fourth, fifth and sixth after starting 15th, 18th and 20th, respectively.
Power has since tweeted, “This is Motorsports and there are much worse things in life than having a bad result at the track,” and congratulated Herta for his record-breaking triumph, but the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, in another early-season deficit, will head to Barber Motorsports Park with half as many points as the championship leader.
Podium Finishers Debate Pit Stop Timing
In the highly competitive arena of IndyCar, one driver’s loss is another’s gain. Having completed their final pit stops before Rosenqvist’s crash, second- and third-place finishers Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay moved forward when Power’s perfect day came to an early end.
While Andretti Autosport’s Hunter-Reay matched his starting position of third, Newgarden started seventh and leapt from fifth to second when the former leaders pitted under caution, padding his points lead after coming out on top at St. Petersburg to begin the season.
“It’s the same thing with qualifying: It has to be built into your strategy that you know that this is a variable,” Newgarden said of timing pit stops around potential yellow flags. “You either push the risk or you minimize the risk. It’s part of the strategy. People pit early to minimize the risk or you go late and know you’re taking more of a gamble. Last year, for us, we got bit by it so many times. I should hate it. Ryan (Hunter-Reay) has been bit by it a million times too; we should all hate it. You can also benefit from it, like today.
“At the same point, it does add quite a bit to the show. It’s not like this processional thing; it can get mixed up really quick. It depends on how you look at it. Some people look at it and say that’s not good, mixing it up artificially, or you can say it’s great because it adds a lot of excitement. It’s a tough line on that.”
Hunter-Reay noted there’s another side to the exciting randomization story where yellow flags and pit stops intersect.
“The most unfortunate thing is a casual fan comes to watch it and two cars are leading for half of it, a yellow comes out and suddenly they’re P13 or 14,” the third member of the all-American podium said. “‘Why are they back there? What happened there?’ It’s hard to explain. I have to explain it to some of my friends. It’s a bit tough to explain sometimes.”
Of the 15 IndyCar races remaining in 2019, 10 will take place on road or street circuits where stakes will remain high in the yellow-flag lottery.