Will Power: “It’s the first time I feel I have a shot at winning” Indianapolis 500

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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.’ ”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.