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Power looks to overcome knee pain, 68-point gap at Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Will Power doesn’t have anything to lose this weekend at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion has the longest odds of Team Penske’s quartet to try to overcome in the battle for this year’s crown, entering the weekend 68 points back of teammate and championship leader Josef Newgarden.

But it was Newgarden who already helped give Power a helping hand – or back – in a quick media availability earlier today at Sonoma Raceway. Power sustained a knee injury when surfing earlier this week, and has been limping gingerly around the track.

Newgarden promptly carried Power on his back into the press conference, in a funny-looking piggyback ride. Power explained Thursday his condition for the weekend.

“As long as it’s bent, it’s no problem. It’s just straightening it is the issue. The good news in the car is you’re always bent knee,” Power said.

Power is only alive for the title thanks to double points, with his 68-point deficit outside the standard maximum points number of 54 points achievable for a win, a pole, leading one lap and leading the most laps. He can win the title with either first or second place, and a heck of a lot of help.

It’s been something of a roller coaster season for Power, who has three wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Texas and Pocono, and a series-high six pole positions. But that’s been offset by four finishes of 19th place or worse, including at the double-points Indianapolis 500.

By contrast, the four drivers ahead of him have rarely been outside the top-10. Newgarden has four finishes outside the top-10 while Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have only one each, and Simon Pagenaud two.

With the singular focus of trying to mirror his past Sonoma dominance – Power won three times between 2010 and 2013 here – a pole and win may not net Power the title but it could well throw a curveball, or monkey wrench, into the title fight among the other four drivers.

“I mean, I’m just focusing on getting the best out of the weekend. I’m really focusing on getting pole, winning the race. Then I put myself in the best possible position for something to happen to these guys,” he said.

“But, yeah, I mean, that’s all you can do. Really no different than any other race. Yeah, maybe a little less pressure because you’re not right there, but still very determined.”

Power no longer has Tim Cindric as his race strategist, with Cindric having moved over to Newgarden’s No. 2 car. But Cindric knows the psyche of Power, as the two achieved a wealth of success with the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, including that 2014 title together.

“I think he’ll probably go into it a bit more relaxed than other years. He’s certainly got nothing to lose,” Cindric admitted.

“I think he knows realistically it would have to be a really, really odd day in IndyCar racing for him to have a realistic shot at the championship. So I think he understands that.

“Obviously, he’d rather it be a different way. He’d rather be in the fight overall. But I do think he understands how important it is to the team, and he understands that he’s been in that position before. I’m sure he’ll be in that position again.

“Yeah, it’s unfortunate because I think he fought his way throughout the year to get back in that position, and he just finally got to that, then things didn’t go the right way, fell back out of that realistic opportunity. I think he’s obviously bummed about that.

“But, yeah, I think he’ll be doing everything he can to win the race.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.