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DETROIT — Graham Rahal wanted to break out of a competitive rut. When he saw how close he was to Will Power and how few laps were left in the first race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit, a convincing thought ran through Rahal’s head.
Maybe this was it. Maybe the IndyCar driver had a chance to cement his place in the top three. Maybe Rahal could even pull off his first win of the season.
“I said to myself, ‘Dammit, one of these days I’m gonna win one of these things, and today would be a damn good day to do it,’ ” the Columbus native said.
“I was pushing Power as hard as I possibly could. I thought I was going to get a chance.”
Power, however, had other ideas. The Australian held off Rahal to win the first race of the weekend on Saturday at Belle Isle, and Power’s second win of the season came down to a sprint in the final laps on the 2.35-mile road course.
“He was quick,” Power said. “There’s no way, if he could get by me, that I’d get back by him. He’s one of the best drivers in the restarts, so I had my work cut out.”
Power took the race lead with 10 laps left yet knew Rahal was in pursuit — close pursuit. Power saw Rahal whittle his lead to 0.3091 seconds and attempt to make a pass in the closing laps.
“I pushed hard to see if I could get him to make a mistake,” Rahal said. “He was close a few times, but it’s Will Power. He knows how to finish the job.”
Power made a significant leap during the course of the 70-lap race to get to the front of the field. Power started 16th in the 22-driver field, then got the benefit of restarts and the help of his Penske Racing teammates — while driving on the home track of team owner Roger Penske.
“To come from 16th to win was unprecedented,” said Power, who earned Penske’s first win at Belle Isle since Helio Castroneves won in 2001 in Detroit. “But the team was in position to do that.”
Power also narrowed the gap in the IndyCar points standings; the Dual in Detroit continues with its second race at 3:30 p.m. today, and Power trails points standings leader Ryan Hunter-Reay 288-285.
Power finished 0.3305 seconds ahead of Rahal, and Tony Kanaan was third. Justin Wilson was fourth and Castroneves, Saturday’s pole-winner, was fifth.
“This was a good break, we were having a tough season so far, after a big disappointment in Indianapolis,” said Kanaan, who finished 26th last weekend at the Indianapolis 500 after running out of fuel and having mechanical problems. “This is a good turnaround for the guys. For tomorrow, though, it doesn’t mean anything. As soon as we finish this, we’ve got to get back to work. It’s another qualifying and another race.”
LUKEWARM REVIEWS: Kanaan and Rahal praised Penske for being a driving force behind Detroit’s role in hosting IndyCar races, but each had a quibble in regards to the track condition.
“There’s a huge repavement plan for next year, so I think it will be a little better,” Kanaan said. “It’s a little rough on us, for sure, but you guys have some rough winters. It’s nobody’s fault. It takes a lot of maintenance when you have hard winters like that.”
Rahal was sympathetic to the fact that race organizers could only control so much.
“I’m a Midwest guy, and we know this winter was brutal,” Rahal said.
OUT EARLY: The winners of the 2013 Dual in Detroit each had a short Saturday at Belle Isle.
Mike Conway wrecked his car while negotiating Turn 12 on the 16th lap, and Simon Pagenaud sustained left-front tire damage after making contact with Power early in the race.
FIRST-TIMER: Mikhail Aleshin made history on Saturday. The 27-year-old became the first Russian-born driver to lead an IndyCar lap, moving to the front of the 22-driver field 31 laps in.
Aleshin was born in Moscow and currently lives in Indianapolis. Prior to Detroit, he made five IndyCar starts this season, with one top-10 finish.
Aleshin’s good fortune was short-lived. Later in the race, he received a drive-through penalty for blocking, then got hit and spun out with 15 laps left. He finished 17th.
CRASHED: Hunter-Reay, the Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 16th after he crashed with one lap left. Hunter-Reay entered the weekend as the IndyCar points leader with 274 points, 40 ahead of Power.
“We had a rough day overall,” Hunter-Reay said. “Strategy wasn’t working for us, and we kept losing spots on pit lane and losing spots on the track. It was just a tough day. I’m not really sure what happened. Marco [Andretti] seemed to be struggling on fuel. I got inside him, and I just lost the rear of the car.”
PIRELLI CHALLENGE: Johnny O’Connell and Dean Martin won in Round 5 of the 26-lap Pirelli World Challenge, one of two races prior to the IndyCar race at Belle Isle. Both will start on the pole for Round 6 of the Pirelli World Challenge, scheduled for 11 a.m. today.
IMSA TUDOR UNITED SPORTS CAR: Ricky Taylor co-drove with his brother, Jordan, to win the 57-lap Chevrolet Sports Car Classic.