INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Will Power came to Indianapolis chasing more than a double. He wants a clean sweep.
After Saturday, the defending IndyCar champion is halfway home.
Power led 65 of 82 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, holding off Graham Rahal for his first win of the season and first at the famed Brickyard.
The Australian finished 1.5023 seconds ahead of Rahal and more than 7 seconds in front of Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and can now focus on winning the Indianapolis 500 pole next weekend and the May 24 race.
“It’s absolutely possible (to win all four),” the Australian said after becoming IndyCar’s fifth winner in five races this season. “You have to think that, because it is. It’s possible. I’m going to try to do everything to make that happen.”
There’s not much time to celebrate.
Teams and track workers will scramble to make the transition from road-course racing to oval racing in roughly 42 hours. Practice for the 500 begins Monday.
If anybody is capable of taking all four this month, it could be Power, who finished second, seventh, 20th and fourth in this season’s first three races. He’s already won two poles this season and is now second in the points behind Montoya.
The next goal is to add to Roger Penske’s record numbers — 16 wins and 18 poles in IndyCar starts at the speedway after taking both for the first time on the speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Power knows he has a good chance, too, after Penske’s cars were the fastest in the first test of the new oval aero kits last weekend. And they have the dominant Chevrolet engines, which have won all five poles this season, four of the first five races and claimed eight of the top 10 spots Saturday.
“It was exactly the race we asked for,” Power said. “No yellows. Very straightforward. Knew we would be in good shape. Had a very good car, good stops.”
But Honda finally appears to be closing the gap.
Rahal took advantage of a five-car crash in the first turn of the 82-lap race to jump from 17th to sixth, steadily moved through the field into second and continually pressured Power. It’s the second straight runner-up finish for Rahal, whose father, 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby, says his son is racing at his best.
“It’s not that this person you see driving today isn’t the same guy that drove last year,” the younger Rahal said. “But the car I drove today is better than what I’ve had. I’ve been able to attack a lot harder.”
The only other Honda driver to finish in the top 10 was Japan’s Takuma Sato, who was ninth for A.J. Foyt Racing.
France’s Sebastien Bourdais and American Charlie Kimball rounded out the top five. Defending race winner Simon Pagenaud, the French driver who is in his first season with Penske’s team, retired after 57 laps because of mechanical problems and wound up last in the 25-car field.
While Power made the race look relatively easy, only surrendering the lead when he pitted, other drivers had bumpier rides.
Three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Brazilian, got caught in the opening lap melee in his 300th career start. He still managed to finish sixth at his favorite venue.
Rahal, an American, and Montoya, of Colombia, both complained Josef Newgarden prevented them from getting a clean run at Power for almost 20 laps. Newgarden finished a lap down after getting collected in the only major crash of the day but still collected enough points to remain seventh in the standings.
“You get 10, 12 car lengths back, you can feel the air,” Rahal said. “I was five car lengths back for five or six laps in a row on his tail. You know, it was like I didn’t exist. That’s pretty frustrating, but it worked out fine.”
Now Power and Penske can focus on their next goal — getting their third win at Indy next weekend.
“I came in this month determined to have a good month. I haven’t had that for so long,” Power said. “It’s working out. It’s just awesome to win at this place.”
Notes: After last year’s big first-lap crash, series officials decided to use a rolling start rather than a standing start, to a rolling start. … Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount attended Saturday’s race as a guest of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. … Sean Rayhall raced to his first career Indy Lights victory, finishing 4.9438 seconds ahead of R.C. Enerson.