Lapping cars have been the bane of Will Power‘s existence over the last couple of seasons in the NTT IndyCar Series and Sunday’s (Feb. 27th) Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was the latest installment in the saga.
Despite having only one practice session on Friday, Power made it clear in the press conference that day that lapping cars and lapped traffic as a whole would continue to be a storyline in IndyCar racing. Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean were answering a question about INDYCAR disabling the push to pass boost system for cars that are a lap down, and Power sat down mid-answer and chimed in with his thoughts.
“Every single driver in that meeting except for maybe one or two said we should enforce the blue flag when you’re coming around to lap the back of the field,” Power said. “We should do something about it. So what does that mean when all the drivers say that? Nothing? Because clearly it doesn’t.
“That would be really great if they did that on the lap that — not when you have to be down a lap from the whole field. It’s kind of ridiculous. At that point it’s the end of the day for that guy and they usually let you go anyway. It’s more the guys at the back of the train trying to stay on the lead lap.
“I think they’re trying to work it out. I think they want to do that. I just don’t know whether they have the ability yet with the system.”
Power’s frustrations with lapping cars came to a head last year at the second race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. While the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet was leading, James Hinchcliffe fought with all of his might to remain on the lead lap during the middle portion of the race, which the Canadian was able to do en route to a 22nd place finish with two more drivers behind him on the lead lap.
After that race, the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner was vocal that something had to change. The Australian emphasized his frustrations that Hinchcliffe was using push to pass to keep himself on the lead lap and called for INDYCAR to implement a lucky dog rule similar to other series.
INDYCAR instead came up with the ability to disable at their choosing the push to pass boost system for drivers that are a lap down, but Power was still frustrated after Sunday’s race.
With 13 laps to go, race leader Scott McLaughlin approached Jimmie Johnson‘s No. 48 Honda to put the Chip Ganassi Racing driver a lap down. In second place was Johnson’s teammate, Alex Palou who gained ground on McLaughlin while Johnson was in front of the pair.
Johnson defended against McLaughlin’s advances going into turn 1 before letting the No. 3 Chevrolet through. Johnson then promptly pulled over for his teammate in the No. 10 Honda before briefly holding Power up. The 2014 IndyCar Series champion was a bit nonplussed over that in the post-race press conference.
“Jimmie was P3 — oh, hang on, no, he was racing me — oh, he was a lap down, sorry,” Power said of Johnson. “I thought he was — the way he was racing I thought it was for the podium.”
Palou didn’t hold back his feelings either about the late race traffic.
“No, at the end I have to pass them, as well,” Palou said. “But yeah, I didn’t really like that they were — especially the last three laps, that they didn’t let us pass. Yeah, you never want a race to be dictated by the slow cars.”
The car Palou was referring to was Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco. The No. 29 Honda remained on the lead lap with McLaughlin and Palou directly behind him for the last few laps of the race. The Canadian rookie remained steadfast in defending his position ahead of McLaughlin, who won by .5095 seconds over Palou.
McLaughlin was diplomatic after the race when asked about traffic.
“Just leading the race, it’s very different here with the lap traffic compared to any other series in the world,” McLaughlin said. “So [I’m] just trying to judge all that and get that right.”
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I’m going to say it was sad to see ole 7-time’s only purpose out there to play spoiler. He looked better than last year – but I truly fear for Texas and Indy.