IndyCar: Power vs. Pagenaud shaping up to be classic championship battle

(Getty Images)

When an inner ear infection caused him to miss the season-opening race at St. Petersburg – and all the potential points that came with it – it appeared Will Power would have a hard time making up that lost ground.

Some observers even wondered if perhaps Power’s season was already over before it had even started.

But not only has he made up that lost ground, Power has stomped and trampled and pounded that ground, particularly in the last five races.

Just when it appeared Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud would make the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season championship a runaway, Power has suddenly given IndyCar fans what they want: a real championship battle.

Power has won three of the last five races, and finished second in the other two, to climb from 12th to second in the standings with four races remaining.

In addition, he’s cut deeply into Pagenaud’s lead, to the point where entering Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Power is just 58 points behind his teammate. Granted, Pagenaud scored a seismic win at Mid-Ohio that saved the gap from closing even more.

With four races remaining – including Pocono – Power looks to continue as the hottest driver in the series, while Pagenaud continues to do anything and everything to protect his lead.

“We’re in the championship hunt and that’s all I could ask at this point after missing the first race,” Power said. “The whole team has worked so hard to get ourselves back in it. We just need to finish strong.”

Pagenaud won the most recent IndyCar race, his series-leading fourth of the season, nearly three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.

And as the pair head to Pocono this weekend, they’re literally in a dead heat when it comes to who might have an advantage at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle.”

In three prior starts at Pocono, Power has two fourth-place finishes (2013 and 2015) and a 10th place showing (2014), giving him an average finish of 6.0 (an and average start of 3.0).

Pagenaud, meanwhile, is just a tick behind Power with an average finish of 6.3, the result of a pair of sixth-place finishes in 2013 and 2014, and a seventh-place showing last year (plus an overall start of 7.0).

Frankly, Sunday is anybody’s race. And with Pocono being the kickoff to the final fourth of the season, instead of Team Penske’s all for one and one for all team attitude, it’s more of every man for himself when it comes to the championship battle between Power and Pagenaud.

“The Verizon Chevrolet team is ready for Pocono,” Power said. “We have a lot of momentum right now and it’s a track that we’ve had some good performances.

“It’s a track made for these cars. There is a lot of passing and jockeying for position.”

While Power is clearly on the attack and wants to close the points gap on his teammate, Pagenaud, meanwhile, is trying to take more of a relaxed, one race at a time approach.

“Pocono has such a great history with Indy car racing,” he said. “The list of winners at the track is amazing. The track was designed with these cars in mind.

“The racing produces a lot of passing and lead changes. It’s very similar to Indianapolis in many ways. … I like the gains we’ve made in our oval-racing program. Pocono suits our team very well and it will be a very competitive race.”

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X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.