Focus moves from Embarcadero to track for Indy title rivals

Photo: IndyCar

SONOMA, Calif. – Thursday was all about the hype and the buzz for Verizon IndyCar Series title contenders Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, who are separated by 43 points for the championship this weekend.

The two took their respective cars – Pagenaud’s No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Team Penske Chevrolet and Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – for a brief stroll of the iconic Embarcadero Drive on Thursday in San Francisco as a way to build up buzz and awareness for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Newly crowned Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones also took part, driving the IndyCar two-seater with the champion’s Astor Cup in the second seat.

Here’s some quick social posts and videos from the Embarcadero event on Thursday.

On Friday, the two championship contenders met the media at Sonoma Raceway following the first practice session for the race.

With Pagenaud in 10th and Power in 17th, neither driver was particularly concerned about their low standing. Both drivers opted to save tires during the session, as the second practice session would be closer to qualifying and race conditions.

Neither driver is noting the pressure of their title fight outwardly this weekend. They’re both thankful that either of them will deliver for Roger Penske, since the title can only go to a Team Penske driver.

“I think it’s a good situation, a great situation,” Power said. “After what happened last year, just no way we could let that happen again. It was just such a pity, that we allowed Ganassi to get that title.

“Yeah, it was unfortunate how it happened. But it didn’t need to happen. We were very determined to make sure it didn’t happen this year. It’s a relief that we can just go and race.”

Added Pagenaud, “Just excited to be here, excited to be in this fight, excited that we’re able to, with Will and our teammates, bring another championship for Team Penske in the 50th year anniversary of the team. I think it’s very important to Roger and the entire organization. It feels great.”

Power has a chance to win his second championship, after securing his first in 2014.

The Australian, who’s certainly grown and matured over the years and has cannily let races come to him throughout 2016, said getting that first title is helping him now.

“Yeah, I think at this point if I hadn’t won one, I probably would have just been like, ‘I’m not going to win one,'” Power said.

“I said that in ’14 actually. I went into ’14, I’m not going to win a championship, so who cares. I just went and raced, and I won one. That’s actually how I approached the beginning of that season, then it started coming together. Okay, I get it. Racing gods just want to play with you a little.”

Pagenaud, naturally, wants his first crown in IndyCar. He won the Formula Atlantic title in his first season in North America in 2006 and the American Le Mans Series title in 2010.

“I don’t feel awkward. I want to be the one winning for sure, and Will does, too. It’s great for Team Penske to win, but I do want to get this title,” he said.

“We’ve had a great season. I think first and foremost, even before this weekend starts, it’s just how great the season has been on the 22 car, the evolution compared to last year. The transition is done compared to being with Schmidt before.

“Couldn’t be happier to be where we’re at right now. Like I said, I’m going to embrace the weekend and enjoy it.”