Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015

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Team Penske president Tim Cindric has taken the first step to indicate a number switch for newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power in 2015.

Power has run the No. 12 since joining Team Penske in 2009, with his Verizon Team Penske entry full-time since 2010.

But with the title he claimed Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway, Power appears set to adopt the champion’s No. 1 for 2015, which is available to be utilized but hasn’t been taken up as often as it used to be.

A fan asked the question of car numbers on Twitter Saturday night, and Cindric responded thusly:

Assuming Power makes the switch, he’d join teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves in numerical order of Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in 2015.

Ryan Hunter-Reay took the champion’s No. 1 in 2013 but struggled through an up-and-down year.

Prior to that, the most recent No. 1 usage was by Sebastien Bourdais in Champ Car, from 2005 through 2007 (after titles from 2004 through 2007), and Scott Dixon in 2004 after his 2003 IndyCar title.

Dixon opted to retain the No. 9 for his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this season, as he has had the same number since 2003.

On one hand, it makes a lot of sense for Power to run the 1. It’s 15 years in the making as Power has grown in his career year-by-year, and now finally be rewarded with the champion’s number. It also would see Team Penske run the 1 for the first time since Gil de Ferran did in the 2001 CART season, after claiming the 2000 championship.

On the other, it would be a bit of a shift as Power and the 12 are about as synonymous in IndyCar as any driver-number pairing this side of Dixon in the last several years. In a series that struggles for the same visual driver/number recognizability as NASCAR drivers tend to have, Power and the 12 are well established. Verizon and Power have been linked by the 12 for all their marketing and promotional materials; show cars have the 12 as well. Power’s Twitter handle is @12WillPower, so there’s that, too.

Still, we know how smart and savvy Cindric and Team Penske are. The benefits of running the 1 for one year would likely outweigh the negatives of the alterations needed – and given the title drought for the team that’s now ended, it would be just reward for their accomplishments.

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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