Will Power

Will Power may have his best Verizon IndyCar title shot yet in 2014

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There are few things in the Verizon IndyCar Series more scintillating to watch than Will Power on a qualifying lap.

For four full years, and an additional handful of starts in 2009 before that, Power has racked up 27 career pole positions while driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske entry.

Of course there is more to the 33-year-old Australian besides his qualifying pace. He’s one of the series’ best racers, and has quickly morphed into one of the best sound bites with his dry humor often a highlight of any media availability (or describing Christmas in his native Toowoomba, Australia).

Yet ultimately, while Power has long been IndyCar’s fastest driver, he’s still yet to be its finest.

Three successive runner-up finishes in the championship from 2010 through 2012 left Power to ponder the missed opportunities over the long, excruciating offseason.

Then 2013 happened, where Power found himself out of title contention by July, and could afford to take more chances and just do his thing without extra pressure.

What followed was a tour de force in the final five races of the year, with three wins and a potential fourth at Baltimore that went begging after contact with sparring partner Scott Dixon after a restart.

It’s not lost on Power that that different mentality was a welcome change of pace, and should have him ready to continue that assault into 2014.

“Yeah, I have to say I was a lot more relaxed in racing situations,” Power said during IndyCar media day in Orlando. “I had spent three years being very conservative, feeling the points. Actually taught me you just need to race hard no matter what. At the end of the year, it was fun. You can just race hard, it does not matter. In fact, the results came a lot better when I did that.”

Wins at Sonoma and Houston weren’t surprises, but a dominant performance on the oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to cap off the year was a hugely satisfying result.

Entering 2014, Power has whatever momentum he gained from the finish of 2013 to take into the new year. He dominated preseason testing at Barber, again. And he’ll of course start as favorite for qualifying in St. Petersburg – he’s scored four straight poles there the last four years.

While he’s started up front, he’s only once been able to convert that into a win, back in 2010. Last year he had his race compromised in one of the year’s most bizarre incidents, when Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand crashed into him under a yellow flag.

To hear Power tell it, he should have never fallen back into that position to begin with.

“I think if I raced harder at St. Petersburg, Helio would have never had gotten me around the outside, and (JR) would have never ran over me,” he said.

But overall, Power looks back at 2013 and admits the race craft was something he was able to improve.

“It taught me a lot about racing, getting in the pack,” he said. “When you spend a lot of time at the front, the restarts, you’re not in the pack. I feel that my race craft was really good by the end and I enjoyed it.”

As it was, Power was the year’s top qualifier anyway with a 4.3 average, and a series-leading seven appearances in nine Firestone Fast Six sessions.

The work being done by Power and his Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and new recruit Juan Pablo Montoya this offseason has been done in Sebring, Sonoma, Fontana and Barber. As Montoya gets re-acclimated back to open-wheel racing, Power has led the team’s development charge this winter.

“We’ve had a couple test days with the three cars. Actually found some pretty good stuff,” Power said. “I feel as though we’re going to be pretty competitive. Kind of just working hard, not leaving anything on the table, not leaving anything to chance. You just can’t be lazy. You’ve got to work hard in this game if you want to continually be competitive. So that’s our plan.”

Power can always be considered a championship favorite going into the year, but the strength of depth within IndyCar provides no guarantees.

At one point in 2013, he was as low as 17th in the points standings. He rebounded to fourth by the end of the year on the strength of his torrid finish.

“It just taught me not to think about points, but to just race hard and enjoy it,” Power said. “A lot of teams now are really compressed. There’s no one that sticks out. Obviously Ganassi was strong on the road and street courses last year. Every off-season, all these small teams, including us, you close the gap. The gap gets smaller and smaller.

“It’s a different series or different intensity of competition, you could say, to what it was two or three years ago,” he added. “It’s really ramped up. No one just takes all the poles. It’s quite difficult to get a pole, let alone get in the Fast Six now, which is great. It’s a good, tough series.”

And in this good, tough series, it would only be a surprise if Power isn’t racking up more poles, winning races and contending once again for his first title.

Verstappen promoted to Red Bull, Kvyat back at Toro Rosso from Spanish GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso talks with Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko in the Paddock ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Red Bull has announced that Max Verstappen will take the place of Daniil Kvyat at its senior Formula 1 team for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen, 18, swaps seats with Kvyat, who returns to Toro Rosso – Red Bull’s junior team – having made his debut with the Italian outfit back in 2014.

Kvyat came under fire following the Russian Grand Prix after hitting Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice on the first lap and ruining teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s race.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and team advisor Helmut Marko had face-to-face talks with Kvyat this week, before taking the decision to demote him to Toro Rosso.

“Red Bull Racing will have a new driver line-up from the Spanish Grand Prix,” a statement from Red Bull read.

“Max Verstappen will be joining the team to drive alongside Daniel Ricciardo. Daniil Kvyat will continue to drive for Red Bull and will re-join sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso.”

Horner was pleased to give Verstappen the opportunity to race for the senior Red Bull team after an impressive rookie season in 2015.

“Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent,” Horner said.

“His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.

“We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.

“Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.”

The immediate response to the news was that of shock, given that barring his errors in Russia, Kvyat has enjoyed a strong stint with Red Bull.

The Russian beat the highly-rated Ricciardo across their first year together as teammates in 2015, and charged to third place in China just three weeks ago for his second podium finish in F1.

Red Bull has been known to make cut-throat decisions in the past though, with the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais all being dropped from the energy drinks giant’s F1 programme in the past.

Bourdais was the last driver to be replaced mid-season in the RBR/STR setup, dropping the Champ Car legend after the 2009 German Grand Prix.

Verstappen now has the chance to prove his mettle and make the best of a top-line seat, but at just 18 years old, he still has plenty to learn.

As for Kvyat? It is difficult to see where his F1 career goes from here, at least with Red Bull. The sport is enjoying a boom in Russia and he is the face of it, yet being sent back to the ‘training ground’ of Red Bull is nothing short of humiliating.

Time will tell whether this was a canny move by Red Bull or a snap decision all parties will come to regret.

PIRTEK Team Murray rolls out several tidbits as Brabham preps for debut

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It’s been a busy last week or so for PIRTEK Team Murray and driver Matthew Brabham around the Indianapolis area.

And they haven’t even begun practicing or qualifying or even racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

* First, the team announced that the most decorated police officer in New York City Police history, Walter Wasilewski, has joined PIRTEK Team Murray’s CK Crew of Veterans and First Responders that will take part in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge for the Indianapolis 500 (photo below; photo credit: PIRTEK Team Murray).

056Wasilewski received over 200 medals and awards before retiring. He made over 3,000 arrests during his career with the NYPD, and also served at Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The CK Crew, will allow the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to host 500 members of the military and first responders at Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May. Kyle was a highly-decorated NAVY Seal and sniper who was killed in 2013 in his native Texas.

Seven of those 500 members of the CK Crew will train and crew Brabham’s PIRTEK Team Murray car in the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, to be held on Miller Lite Carb Day on May 27.

“This concept is unique and it will allow a number of guys and girls to come together and form a team to hopefully get PIRTEK Team Murray to victory lane in the Pit Stop Challenge,” said Walter Wasilewski.

“Everyone knows what Chris Kyle did for America and Taya (Kyle’s widow) is carrying on his legacy with such dignity and class. I’ve had the chance to meet with Taya on several occasions in New York and she is an amazing American.

“My career in the Police Department was through some of the most dangerous times in New York’s history. Period.

“That training is going to come in handy when standing waiting for the PIRTEK Team Murray racecar to come at me. In the Police Department, you have to have faith in those around you to protect you – in this case, I have to have the faith in Matt to stop the car on his marks so we can then go about our job.”

* Second, Brabham recently had the opportunity to take part in the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL Draft announcement (see main photo).

Brabham, 22, joined four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in announcing two of the Colts’ draft picks: Hassan Ridgeway from Texas and Florida’s Antonio Morrison.

The draft announcement was made on the start-finish line of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I knew nothing about American football when I first moved back to the US from Australia in 2012, but I have really grown to love it,” Brabham said. “I have been to several Colts games and the more I know the more I am really starting to get into it.

“We had a fantasy football league with several of the drivers last year and I won it, so I must be learning something.

“It is great that we can combine two things as significant as the Colts and NFL Draft and the Indianapolis Speedway and the 100th Indy 500.

“To get up close to the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl trophy (Vince Lombardi Trophy) was pretty cool. You don’t get to do that every day.”

* Third, Matthew Brabham’s grandfather, three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham, has been named to “The Top 100 Most Important People in Indy 500 History” by the Indianapolis Star.

“Sir Jack,” as he was called in the later years of his life, is ranked 56th on the list. The patriarch of the Brabham family passed away on May 19, 2014 at the age of 88.

Young Matthew is only the third third-generation racer to attempt to race in the 500, following his grandfather and father Geoff.

The other two families that have had three generations of racers compete at Indianapolis are the Vukovich family – Bill, Billy Jr. and Billy III – as well as the Andretti family: Mario, Michael and Marco.

“We have said it many times, but it is just an honor and a privilege to be part of this year’s Month of May and everything that goes with it,” Matthew Brabham said in a media release.

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Marty Snider’s son Myatt Snider set for ARCA debut

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Photo: Cunningham Motorsports
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Myatt Snider, the 21-year-old eldest son of NBCSN NASCAR and IndyCar reporter Marty Snider, will make his ARCA Series debut later this month.

His series debut will come at Toledo Speedway on May 22, driving the No. 22 Ford for Cunningham Motorsports. It will be the first of nine starts for him this year.

“This is the big opportunity that I have been dreaming about for several years,” the younger Snider said in a release. “I feel so blessed to drive for Paul Andrews and Cunningham Motorsports. I’m confident the move up to ARCA will be a smooth transition, especially since Jeff Caudill will be coming with me and continue being my crew chief.”

With Kevin Lee’s son Jackson also a rising star in the karting ranks, it’s cool to see the next generation of talent start to grow and develop in the stock car ranks. Marty Snider will work on NBCSN’s IndyCar broadcasts through Road America on June 26 on pit road, before the return of NASCAR on NBC on July 2 at Daytona.

A more extensive report can be found here via NASCAR TALK’s Nate Ryan.

Pagenaud disappointed by Boston drop; would love Watkins Glen option

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17: Simon Pagenaud is the winner of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2016 in Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, Simon Pagenaud, was one of several drivers the series deployed to Boston (James Hinchcliffe was another) to promote what would have been the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston on Labor Day weekend.

“The underground aspect is very unique,” Pagenaud said in a series release in January. “I mainly look forward to hearing the sound of the car as I drive under it. The layout is very fun and the track itself is in a fast-growing area with a great dynamic. I should be able to get good speed because the wide track, fast corners and smooth roads after all of the work (is completed) will most likely make this track one of the fastest tracks there is.

“The Verizon IndyCar Series is very excited for the potential that Boston brings as a whole,” he added. “It is exciting to be able to reach out to another population in a great area and hopefully see its economy change for the better as a result of the race. I would really like to thank the city of Boston for this opportunity.”

But with news emerging late Friday that the race wouldn’t be on the 2016 schedule after all, Pagenaud reflected a bit of disappointment that people didn’t understand what the event could have provided.

“Yeah, I’m very disappointed,” Pagenaud told reporters Wednesday during a teleconference. “That was going to be a great event, perfect position in the city.

“I managed to see the excitement of I guess half of the population in Boston, because I know some of the population was not excited about it. There were a lot of people that were pulling for the race. I saw the excitement.

“The racetrack itself looked like it was going to be a beautiful layout. We were going to go through a tunnel, which would have been really cool.”

Naturally, the next follow-up question is where would Pagenaud like to race provided INDYCAR could fill the slot on the calendar.

A permanent road course in the vain of Road America – where Pagenaud’s had success in sports cars and clinched his Champ Car Atlantic crown in 2006 – immediately came to mind.

“I hope we can replace the race. For sure, I’m thinking of Watkins Glen. I’ve never been there, but it looks like a beautiful track. It’s been repaved, as well, recently. That would be a good market and really cool track to go to.

“There’s plenty of tracks in America that could be exciting to go to. I’d like to go back to Fontana personally. I love that oval. But I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

For what it’s worth, Watkins Glen has been discussed openly as an option although whether INDYCAR could make it happen and whether the track will be able to accommodate it remains to be seen.

Watkins Glen International Michael Printup told the Boston Herald that while the track would “be a great site for them,” it remains a long ways off and would require a minor miracle to do some schedule jostling.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but we’re not even there yet. It’s a huge challenge,” Printup told the Herald, with neither INDYCAR officials nor Grand Prix of Boston officials available for further comment.

I had to joke with Pagenaud, who’s now driving a Menards-backed entry with John Menard’s support for the full month of May and for IndyCar’s return to Road America in late June, whether he could persuade Menard to help IndyCar return – again – to the Milwaukee Mile.

“There you go,” Pagenaud laughed, although such an option doesn’t seem realistic at this juncture.