IndyCar championship is matter of numbers for Will Power

Power is coming off a third-place finish in the most recent race, Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar
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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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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds