Having broken the trend of his problematic 2021 NTT IndyCar Series campaign with a dominant victory in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, Will Power had at least much cause for exultation as any of the season’s nine different winners to date. Yet the post-race celebrations also provided a chance to let out some frustration.
While the box score testifies to Power’s Saturday supremacy, leading 56 of 85 laps, it won’t show the part where a near 10s lead on second-place pursuer Colton Herta was whittled away. The Team Penske driver was comfortably in control around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, right up until he came up on the back of the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda of James Hinchcliffe — coincidentally, Herta’s teammate.
Despite his best efforts, which included a pit sequence, Power’s Verizon Chevrolet remained stuck behind Hinchcliffe, who was fighting to stay on the lead lap, for 20 laps. Power’s lead on Herta at one point dropped to just under 2s. A pair of late cautions brought the field closer to Power’s rear wing, but also allowed for clean air as Hinchcliffe rejoined the lead lap battle at the back of the field.
“Once we got out in clean air, we were going. I don’t think anyone had a better car than us,” said Power. “Back markers certainly make it tough in this series, and it’s a simple fix. You simply give those guys their lap back when it goes yellow and they won’t fight you. You don’t even have to mandate a blue. Jay? Jay Frye? Is he here?”
IndyCar’s president wasn’t around at the post-race press conference, although Power added that he “mentioned that to him from time to time.”
As for Hinchcliffe, it was the second time over the course of the weekend a Team Penske driver targeted the affable Canadian. Josef Newgarden failed to make it out of Round 1 of qualifying, acknowledging he was “pretty pissed” after coming up on Hinchcliffe during his flying lap run. Ultimately, though, Newgarden took the blame because “I can’t help that he’s not quick enough; that’s his problem. It’s not his fault.”
The 40-year-old Aussie had a slightly different perspective to his own experience.
“The way I caught him, I thought we could probably get past him no problem,” Power admitted. “When I got to him and I saw he was using Push-to-Pass to keep me behind, I’m like, ‘It’s just insane that we have this in IndyCar.’ Even the second-place guy doesn’t like it, and the third-place guy because if I get past him then they’ve got to work to get past him. It just ruins races. I don’t even think the guys that are trying to stay on the lead lap like it because they don’t want to be a pain in the ass. They would like to get out of the way, and it’s such a simple fix.”
The fix Power suggests would be similar to NASCAR’s “Lucky Dog” rule.
“Just bloody give them their lap back if it goes yellow. Give anyone who’s a lap down their lap back,” he argued. “It just blows my mind that we are such a competitive series — you have nine different winners already and it’s a different polesitter every week — and yet you’ve got to come around and fight someone who’s the last guy? I mean, there’s no series in the world that does that.
“And we’ve asked for this. They’ve got to do something. They need to change it. Just crazy that you’re racing someone who’s a lap down or going a lap down. It’s too competitive to do that. Everyone works too hard, spends way too much money to be racing some guy that’s a lap down that’s having a bad day.”
Power emphasized that his frustration is with the situation, not Hinchcliffe.
“I mean, obviously Andretti wouldn’t be telling him to get out of the way,” Power said. “I think if it was a Chevy engine… someone at Chevy probably would. Hinch was just fast enough for me not to get close enough to kind of have a run when I did. He’d use Push-to-Pass.
“You can’t blame the driver. It’s the team that would be telling him stay on the lead lap in case it goes yellow, which it did, and it’s just a really bad rule. I wish I could come on the radio and say, ‘Look, if Hinch lets me go, I will let him go when it goes yellow. He can have that position back.’ That’s literally what you’d be doing — all they’d have to do is just give him the lap back. It would just stop it completely.
“You have a gentlemen’s agreement amongst drivers, ‘Hey, if the leader comes up on you, you let him go; you’re getting your lap back anyway.’”