ST. PETERSBURG — Will Power, the unassuming Australian with the superhero name, has surprisingly won the first two races of the IndyCar season, but to ask the man who is in his ear during races, Monday's rain-delayed win in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was easily the more impressive of the two.
"He showed character here," Penske Racing general manager Clive Howell said. "He didn't make any mistakes. When he got to the front, he stayed in the front."
Asked about Power's win March 14 in Brazil, Howell blew on his balled-up right hand and rolled imaginary dice through the work area of the Penske tent, moments after the victory. That win was a lucky one — Power just happened to make a pit stop right before heavy rains set in, making up a huge amount of ground and putting him in position to win.
"This," Howell said, "was all about him driving fast, keeping off the wall, doing the right thing and the maturity he showed (Monday)."
Power was supposed to be the third Penske driver this season, but Monday he again overshadowed last year's St. Petersburg champ, Ryan Briscoe, who took third, and two-time champion Helio Castroneves, who took fourth. The 29-year-old is just the second driver to win the IndyCar series' first two races — the other, Sam Hornish — went on to win the series championship in 2001.
"It's a fantastic start," Power said Monday after leading 50 of 100 laps and beating Justin Wilson by a comfortable 0.82 seconds, or about 100 feet. " … I'm aware that it's only in Race 2 of 17. To win a championship, it doesn't matter if you win two races and then have a heap of bad ones. You have to keep at it every weekend."
Power was the dominant driver all weekend. He had the fastest time in Friday's practice then won the pole with Saturday's top qualifying time.
But the story entering the day looked to be Sunday's heavy rains, which had postponed the race's start by 18 hours. IndyCar officials deemed the track dry enough to start without rain tires, though the slick surfaces still created problems.
Milka Duno spun out before the green flag, and defending IndyCar series champion Dario Franchitti spun out on the opening lap, though he worked his way back and finished fifth. Other top drivers weren't able to finish — St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon lost control of his car on the 47th lap, and Scott Dixon, having replaced the nose on his car after early contact, clipped the wall and was done after 73 laps.
That contact with 27 laps to go, combined with a well-executed final pit stop, allowed Power to control the rest of the race, knowing he had enough fuel to drive as he needed to.
Howell sees an emerging maturity in the young driver.He remembers a year and a half ago in Power's native Australia, where he got into the lead early but pushed too hard and slammed into the wall, spoiling an opportunity for a home win. That wasn't a problem Monday.
"He was just staying a second in front of Justin, not burning his tires up," Howell said. "There wasn't any point in dragging out a big gap there, because you burn your tires out."
In a matter of two hours, the story changed from Sunday's heavy rains to Power's emerging stardom, not only on his own team but in all of IndyCar racing.
The weather, like his season, was constantly improving.
"Every hour, it got better," Power said. "I knew at some point, this race was going to be dry. … You can't tell what's going to happen in a race. The more it's mixed up, the better it is for the fans to see some good racing."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and (813) 226-3346.