Power is coming off a third-place finish in the most recent race, Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar championship is matter of numbers for Will Power

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Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power is focused on two numbers these days: 87 and four.

In search of his second career Verizon IndyCar Series championship (also won in 2014), Power is 87 points behind points leader Scott Dixon (494 points), with four races remaining on the schedule.

The series’ most recent race winner (Mid-Ohio), Alexander Rossi, is 46 points behind Dixon, followed by defending IndyCar champ and Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden (-60 points), Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay (-95 points). Rookie Robert Wickens is a distant sixth with 380 points, but is still mathematically in contention.

“Obviously, Newgarden and Rossi are very reachable,” Power said Tuesday during an IndyCar media teleconference. “But Dixon, we need him to have a bad run, simple as that.

“That’s how we’re going to catch him. He’s had a very good run all year, very smooth, very consistent. We just need him to have a bad day basically.”

The IndyCar series is enjoying a three-week respite before the next race, the ABC Supply 500 on August 19 at Pocono Raceway, which kicks off a stretch of four races in five weeks, culminating with the season finale and likely championship-deciding race at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 16.

Sonoma could be a wild-card race, as IndyCar will award drivers double points based upon their finishes. So, in theory, the winning driver (and potential series champion) could earn just over 100 points at Sonoma to clinch the crown.

“(Double points) absolutely changes your strategy,” Power said. “Double points helps you if you’re far back like I am.

“You obviously would be very aggressive with your strategy depending on how you qualifying. You’d be going there to try to win the race. Maybe you take a big risk strategy-wise to do that. Even on the track as far as you race, you’d be quite aggressive. Yeah, double points situation is great for my position.”

It’s been an up-and-down season for Power. Yes, he won the Greatest Spectacle In Racing for the first time in his career, as well as the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

He also has a runner-up finish in Belle Isle No. 2 and a third-place finish at Mid-Ohio, giving him five podium finishes in the first 13 races.

But Power has also struggled at times in 2018. He has four DNFs and five finishes of 18th or worse.

“It’s been very up and down,” Power said. “The highlight, absolutely, winning the 500. But as far as the championship goes, had great speed, great qualifying. Just had too many DNF’s basically.”

But Power is not losing any optimism that he can still rally to win the championship.

“Still in the game,” he said. “It can change very quick. I was 70 points out (of first place) coming into the month of May. I left the month of May leading the championship. (I’m) very focused on having a good finish to the season.”

Now, Power prepares for Pocono, a race he’s won the last two times he’s taken the checkered flag and feels confident he can make it three in a row.

“Pocono has been a track I’ve always enjoyed, always done well at the races,” Power said. “Yeah, looking forward to running there again.

“Love superspeedways. Really, really feel right at one with them.”

Pocono’s so-called “Tricky Triangle” has been anything but for Power. In addition to his back-to-back wins in the last two races, he also has a pair of fourth-place finishes and a 10th-place showing in the five races since IndyCar first came there in 2013.

Whether it’s IndyCar or NASCAR, Pocono has a reputation of being a superspeedway that also races like a road course, elements that play to Power’s strengths behind the wheel.

“The most similar track is Indianapolis for the fact you take a total road course race line,” Power said. “That’s true of Pocono. It’s a superspeedway.

“I think the thing that differentiates that track is it’s three very different corners: one with a lot of banking, one that’s very open, pretty much wide open every lap, then one that’s kind of like Indianapolis with no banking and the car slides around.

“It is a great race circuit. Really, really cool. A lot of fun. I really enjoy racing there. It’s one of my favorite tracks.”

Indeed it is, especially the last two years. Power heads to Pocono having won three of the last four 500-mile races on the IndyCar circuit: Texas and Pocono last season, and the Indy 500 this year. He fell short of making it 4-for-4 when he crashed and finished 18th at Texas this past June.

“I really enjoy racing, I guess, 500 miles,” Power said. “The superspeedways, just experience. Obviously Pocono is a track I really enjoy. Indianapolis is, as well. Just superspeedways in general. I won at Texas last year, Pocono. I won obviously Indy this year.

“But, yeah, just experience, understanding what I want from the car. I enjoy the tracks. I think that’s what makes me do well there.”

Taking part in a Firestone and IndyCar test, Power returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday for the first time since winning the 500 on May 27th.

“It was a pretty nice feeling driving through the tunnel and just going back to that place with such great memories and actually get back out there on the track,” Power said. “Yeah, yeah, always brings a smile to my face any time I think about it or obviously drive into the place at Indianapolis.”

But Power has been able to compartmentalize winning the biggest race in the world. While it’s the greatest achievement of his IndyCar career, he also is quick to point out that it’s just one of 17 races on the 2018 schedule.

Now there’s an even bigger picture in his mind: winning the championship.

“It hasn’t changed all that much apart from you have more commitments and media,” he said. “You finish the 500, the season just continues on. You got to keep pushing away to try to win a championship.

“Honestly, it’s just so satisfying every time I think of it. Sometimes you’re just sitting there thinking, ‘Man, I won the Indy 500.’ For me, it was such a big deal, such a great feeling of accomplishment.”

Speaking of accomplishment, Power was asked about how increasingly competitive the series has been this year with the new race car.

An offshoot of that competition is the series is on pace to record the lowest number of cautions in a season in the sport’s modern-day history.

Power’s response:

“I would say it’s obviously a level of competition now. You have a lot more continuity of drivers in IndyCar these days, so obviously people understand the racing and the cars a lot better.

“There’s no bad drivers in the field any more. They all know how to race hard but fair. You know, IndyCar developed a great car to drive. You got to hang it out, but it’s forgiving.

“Yeah, it’s very interesting how green the races have been, but it’s not surprising with the level of driver talent.”

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Three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda dies at 70

AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File
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BERLIN (AP) Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda, who won two of his titles after a horrific crash that left him with serious burns and went on to become a prominent figure in the aviation industry, has died. He was 70.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Lauda’s family said in a statement he “passed away peacefully” on Monday. Walter Klepetko, a doctor who performed a lung transplant on Lauda last year, said Tuesday: “Niki Lauda has died. I have to confirm that.”

Lauda won the F1 drivers’ championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren.

In 1976, he was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix but made an astonishingly fast return to racing just six weeks later.

Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula One circuit after retiring as a driver in 1985, and in recent years served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.

Born on Feb. 22, 1949 into a wealthy Vienna industrial family, Nikolaus Andreas Lauda was expected to follow his father’s footsteps into the paper-manufacturing industry, but instead concentrated his business talents and determination on his dreams of becoming a racing driver.

Lauda financed his early career with the help of a string of loans, working his way through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2. He made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix and picked up his first points in 1973 with a fifth-place finish for BRM in Belgium.

Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, winning a Grand Prix for the first time that year in Spain and his first drivers’ title with five victories the following season.

Facing tough competition from McLaren’s James Hunt, he appeared on course to defend his title in 1976 when he crashed at the Nuerburgring during the German Grand Prix. Several drivers stopped to help pull him from the burning car, but the accident would scar him for life. The baseball cap Lauda almost always wore in public became a personal trademark.

“The main damage, I think to myself, was lung damage from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the car for about 50 seconds,” he recalled nearly a decade later. “It was something like 800 degrees.”

Lauda fell into a coma for a time. He said that “for three or four days it was touch and go.”

“Then my lungs recovered and I got my skin grafts done, then basically there was nothing left,” he added. “I was really lucky in a way that I didn’t do any (other) damage to myself. So the real question was then will I be able to drive again, because certainly it was not easy to come back after a race like that.”

Lauda made his comeback just six weeks after the crash, finishing fourth at Monza after overcoming his initial fears.

He recalled “shaking with fear” as he changed into second gear on the first day of practice and thinking, “I can’t drive.”

The next day, Lauda said he “started very slowly trying to get all the feelings back, especially the confidence that I’m capable of driving these cars again.” The result, he said, boosted his confidence and after four or five races “I had basically overcome the problem of having an accident and everything went back to normal.”

He won his second championship in 1977 before switching to Brabham and then retiring in 1979 to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air, declaring that he “didn’t want to drive around in circles anymore.”

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3 million a year.

He finished fifth his first year back and 10th in 1983, but came back to win five races and edge out teammate Alain Prost for his third title in 1984. He retired for good the following year, saying he needed more time to devote to his airline business.

Initially a charter airline, Lauda Air expanded in the 1980s to offer flights to Asia and Australia. In May 1991, a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.

Lauda occasionally took the controls of the airline’s jets himself over the years. In 1997, longtime rival Austrian Airlines took a minority stake and in 2000, with the company making losses, he resigned as board chairman after an external audit criticized a lack of internal financial control over business conducted in foreign currency. Austrian Airlines later took full control.

Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003. Germany’s Air Berlin took a minority stake and later full control of that airline, which Lauda bought back in early 2018 after it fell victim to its parent’s financial woes.

He partnered with budget carrier Ryanair on Niki’s successor, LaudaMotion.

On the Formula One circuit, Lauda later formed a close bond with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013. He often backed Hamilton in public and provided advice and counsel to the British driver.

Lauda also intervened as a Mercedes mediator when Hamilton and his former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg feuded, argued and traded barbs as they fought for the title between 2014-16

Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and, when that stopped functioning well, a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

In August 2018, he underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a “serious lung illness.” It didn’t give details.

Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit, and their twin children Max and Mia. He had two adult sons, Lukas and Mathias, from his first marriage.