INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power has been in this spot before, where the frequency of wins hasn’t come as quickly as they used to.
After winning three of the first four races in 2012, Power fell into a 25-race winless drought before the 2013 race at Sonoma. He punctuated a year where he fell out of the championship fight early on with three wins in the final five races, adding further triumphs in Houston and Fontana.
As he heads into this weekend’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, it’s been one year and 14 races since he last won, as the race’s defending champion.
Power – who holds himself to the highest of standards and has been the speed standard bearer in the series for the last five or six years – admitted a bit of frustration with himself in noting the mistakes that have cost him early in 2016.
“Yeah it’s coming up. Yeah, it does feel so long,” Power told reporters in Charlotte at Team Penske’s headquarters earlier this week, including NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan.
“We were so quick last year but it didn’t work out. It becomes frustrating.
“This year at Phoenix, I made a mistake in the last pit stop. Dixon won. Long Beach, I screwed up in qualifying. Definitely was gonna be right there. Barber was just an average race.
“I’m determined to have a good month and put me back in position.”
The Grand Prix has already, traditionally, served as a good warm-up act for the remainder of the month of May in advance of the Indianapolis 500.
Power, who said a ‘500 race win would be “everything” for him with more to come in a separate post, described the preparation you need to maximize the Grand Prix to set up for the rest of the month.
“You get a lot of time on the track. Cars are pretty sorted,” Power explained. “You do use all your tires up. The road course race is part of it. You win both, that’d be a pretty cool thing to do in your career. The Grand Prix is just like another race. The 500 is like another month.”
As he heads into this month, the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is fully back to good health after his ear infection-induced absence from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.
“I’m feeling much better. I struggled there for a while with ear infections and so on,” Power admitted. “Now I’m at a spot where I feel better. Back to where I was last year.
“Yeah I think Phoenix was the test for me, the hardest race of the year, and then we had two full green road courses. Barber was toughest road race we’ll do all year.
“Indy is more mentally demanding. You go a lot faster, but the car isn’t so loaded. Maybe 2 or 3 Gs only. It’s a lot less.”
Power, who sits seventh in points with half his teammate’s total – points leader Simon Pagenaud (188-94) – isn’t giving up hope he can still win this year’s crown.
“I’m not out of it. If it’s mathematically possible, you have to keep pushing,” he said.
And lastly Power noted the ascendance of Pagenaud within the team this year. The two were briefly intense rivals during 2014 and the prospect of the two of them on the front row at Barber was a mouth-watering one.
Nonetheless, Power isn’t surprised by Pagenaud’s rise to open the season.
“Last year, I think he had the pace. But things didn’t work out. He had a bit of bad luck and was finding feet in team,” he said.
“Now this year, things that have flowed for him. He has a big points lead… but as you know, just with the amount of points between qualifying, Indy road course and the 500, that can switch pretty quickly.
“His strength is consistency. I can’t see him making mistakes. He’ll be tough to beat in the championship. But it’s not impossible. Montoya and Dixon are close.”
Power’s points rise and quest to return to victory lane – and by default the need to knock off Pagenaud in the process – is one of the key story lines going into this weekend.