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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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”