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When winner Will Power’s accent degenerates to the point where it’s more affectation than Aussie, you know you’ve landed in IndyCar’s outback. The predictable and unpalatable Penske win from pole was the Cap’n’s 200th in the sport. It was also, to quote Quintana, “bush league stuff.”
During ABC’s unremarkable, out-the-door-and-it-shows pre-race show, Scott Goodyear pontificated that he wasn’t sure his fellow Canuck Robert Wickens “is a rookie.” Well Mr. also-ran, we’re positive that he is. Next, Power predicted a good race with “lots of passing,” all merely proving that he’s a better driver than prognosticator.
The GP’s Great Leader Tony George gave the command to start engines while in the booth they droned on about the perils of turn 1. Upon taking the green they went at least four wide in what’s hopefully a harbinger of things to come in the 500, going hard into the sharp right hander that is the GP’s first turn. By turn 2 there was the predictable trouble on track.
Upon first glance and according to the booth, ECR’s rookie Jordan King hit Pags, sending both off course and into the gravel pit. After starting seventh, Pags was able to keep it going and bring it home to a respectable eighth place showing. On the same opening lap, Pigot also ran off course after hitting a curb and wildly flying through the air, hitting an unfortunate Sato after landing and bouncing. Poor Spencer was penalized for the avoidable contact, but soldiered on to finish 15th. Meanwhile, his teammate King got stuck in the gravel trap, bringing out the first caution of the day.
Cutting through the ABC crew’s confusion, replays showed Pags only went wide after being hit by his teammate Helio, who is as you may have heard fresh off retirement. Only then, and after checking up, was the Frenchman rear ended by the Brit rookie – who by the way is very quick but still greener than his car.
All this occurred after Pags went so low that he was across the white line to pass King, who’d qualified a career best fifth. After things settled down, Power led Bourdais, Wickens, Newkid and Hinch. The restart came on lap four with Power opening up a lead as Wickens got around Bourdais for second, though unfortunately for ABC viewers it occurred off camera.
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In a sure sign the race had begun to get strung out, they cut to Punch for a tour of the Pagoda. Power and Wickens pitted together under green with no change in order, though different tire strategies were in effect as the commentators reminded us ad nauseum. Then all of a sudden Wickens was around Power, executing a brilliant on track pass – though at first it was completely unbeknownst to fans. A reply shown later confirmed the uncanny Canuck had taken the lead.
Amidst more green flag pit stops and drollery from the booth, frankly we were losing interest. Why? Because Wickens was nearly five seconds up on Power, although he soon gave up the lead with a mandatory change to black tires. Next Power pitted from the lead for reds, relinquishing the eventual lead back to Wicky Bobby.
As the final stops were approaching, Bestwicke was going on about something over a shot of the infield as they cut away to break. At that point we couldn’t help thinking the whole thing appeared bush league. In a late bid to make things somewhat interesting, Newgarden did his best Pigot impersonation by flying over a curb and into the air before spinning and stalling, bringing out the second and final yellow.
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Both Wickens and Power again pitted, coming out tightly locked together with Power barely edging him exiting the pits. Amazingly, Dixon had climbed up to third from his starting position of 18th, and would go on to finish second. The green flag waved with twenty four to go as showers approached on the radar. A single file restart stayed that way as viewers were subjected to more Bestwicke blundering in the booth. At this point Dixon artfully got around Wicky in an exciting pass going into turn 1.
Although rain began to fall with 13 to go, Power remained out front where he would finish, winning from pole for the second consecutive year. While the new cars did help the passing (as they have all year, except at Long Beach) and JoNew’s left front tire changer’s slick new helmet-cam provided some cool views, the GP still isn’t up to snuff. It wreaks of junior varsity, and only makes us pine for the real race that’s up next.