Will Power breaks through for his first IndyCar victory at Mid-Ohio

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Will Power rediscovered his dominant form at the rare road course he had yet to conquer, winning Saturday’s opener of an NTT IndyCar Series race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

It was the first victory in 12 starts at Mid-Ohio for Power, whose No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet led 66 of 75 laps after starting on pole at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile track in Lexington, Ohio.

The Team Penske driver won by 7.4523 seconds ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden.

“We’ve had a pretty trying year, obviously everyone has, circumstances very tough with COVID, but the fact we’re out here racing and have some fans is fantastic,” Power told NBCSN reporter Kelli Stavast after his 48th career victory. “That’s what we love to do. Love to entertain. We love to drive.

MID-OHIO RESULTS, POINTS: Click here for the full postrace stats package

WHAT DRIVERS SAID: A roundup of postrace reactions

“That is probably the first race in about 10 years that I’ve just gone hard. Like every other race we’ve tried to save fuel and play a strategy game. Today I just said, ‘Let’s go hard, man. Screw this. We don’t want to get caught by a yellow. Let’s just run hard and use my raw pace and see what happens.’ And we won the race.

“It was a great strategy. It’s just putting down good laps, lap after lap after lap. Just a flawless day. It’s what you have to do to win races in this series. The whole team did a fantastic job. To see Verizon in Victory Lane again is fantastic because it’s been awhile.”

Alexander Rossi was third, followed by Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been fastest in practice Saturday morning, as the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio ran caution-free for the third consecutive seeason.

It’s the series-leading 29th career victory on a road course for Power, who ended a yearlong winless drought by taking his first checkered flag since Sept. 1, 2019 at Portland International Raceway. Earlier Saturday, he had scored his 60th career pole position, seven short of the record held by Mario Andretti.

“It’s just great to tick the Mid-Ohio box,” Power said. “I’ve been on the podium here five times.”

Said Newgarden of his teammate: “Unbelievable job. He’s still Will Power. He’s been knocked down a few times this year, but he drove really well. That was a clinic he put on.”

Felix Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey, rookie Rinus VeeKay (who made an impressive pass late in the race), Colton Herta and points leader Scott Dixon rounded out the top 10 in Saturday’s 75-lap race.

Dixon made a last-lap pass to make the top 10, capping an eventful day that included qualifying a disappointing 17th. After gaining a flurry of positions in the opening laps, Dixon rear-ended Herta (who was exiting the pits) on Lap 27.

He avoided any damage to his No. 9 Dallara-Honda and soldiered onto an 11th-place finish.

“It’s was just OK for us,” Dixon said. “It just didn’t play out the way we thought it would. We went with a cautious move and made sure we ran the red tires first based on what we saw in qualifying. I guess looking back maybe we should have gone the other way, but who knows?

“Then we got caught up with Herta on the pit exit, and I’m not sure what happened there or why he slowed up or whatever, but I thought we might have broken the front end after that. I hit him pretty hard, but I guess at the end of the day we made up seven or so spots, and that’s a small win.”

The five-time series champion’s lead over Newgarden shrunk by 20 points but still remains a comfortable 76-point edge with four races remaining in the season — the next being Sunday at Mid-Ohio.

The green flag will be at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. Qualifying will be at 10:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds