INDIANAPOLIS – Driving one of the fastest cars this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Will Power has been experiencing an unfamiliar sensation on the 2.5-mile oval.
But it has nothing to do with speed.
“It’s the first time I’ve been out there saying, ‘This is fun,’” said the defending series champion, who will start second in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. “That hasn’t been me for a long time. They are personal changes I feel. I feel when you’re enjoying it, you really get into it.”
Ovals were the bane of the Team Penske driver’s IndyCar existence for four consecutive seasons from 2010-13. His left-turn weaknesses cost him a the title in 2012 when he crashed and finished 24th in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway after entering with the points lead. He also finished runner-up in the standings in 2010 and ’11 while posting only one oval win (in a half-distance race at Texas Motor Speedway as part of a doubleheader).
There were improvements the second half of 2013, notably a crushing win in that year’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway, but the full breakthrough came last season.
On the way to his first Verizon IndyCar title, Power scored a dominant win at the Milwaukee Mile (leading 229 of 250 laps) and led five of six oval laps.
The momentum has continued this season at Indy, where he has a best showing of fifth (in 2009), but four finishes outside the top 10 in seven starts.
“I feel more confident than I ever around this place,” he said. “I’ve absolutely been more confident in traffic, about the car. It’s the first time I’ve felt like if I’m there at the end, I have a shot at winning this. I just have to get myself in that position.”
The Australian, who admittedly can overthink scenarios inside the cockpit of his Chevrolet, said it was simply a matter of getting comfortable enough to tell his team what he needs in the car and respecting its limits. Power has 23 wins on road and street courses, which are more forgiving of mistakes.
“It came down to experience,” he said. “That’s what oval racing is all about. Everything is high speed. You have to be smart the way you race and deal with traffic. That’s the attraction of ovals. You can never overstep it. At a road course, you can go over that limit and understand what the car does. Here it’s tough. It’s why experience counts so much.
“After contending for the win at every ova last year, I’m understanding what I want from the car. I think when you’re inexperienced, and the car is bad, you blame yourself. It’s never about that. It’s always about the car being right. When it’s not, you feel uncomfortable, but you know the car isn’t right. You’ve got to remember, ‘It’s not me, it’s the car.’ ”