IndyCar: Could fate finally snap Dixon’s, Rossi’s runs of late? Will Power hopes so

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PORTLAND, Oregon – With two races left in the season and still in contention for the IndyCar championship, Will Power knows what he has to do in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland to still have a shot at the title heading into the season finale in Sonoma in two weeks.

“We simply have to finish ahead of (points leader Scott) Dixon and (second-ranked Alexander) Rossi,” Power said Friday at Portland International Raceway. “There’s just no other two ways about it. That’s what we have to do. If we don’t, we really don’t have a chance at Sonoma.

“That’s what we have to do, and that’s what we’re setting out to do.”

So Power is going to have to defeat Dixon and Rossi – currently 1-2 in the standings – by talent, having a better car and hope for a little luck.

Or bad luck for Dixon and Rossi.

Dixon currently leads Rossi by 26 points, while Power is 68 points back and defending series champ Josef Newgarden is 78 points behind.

If Power can earn the pole during Saturday’s qualifying, it would go a long way towards giving him a leg up on the two drivers he’s chasing.

While IndyCar returns to Portland for the first time since 2007, the track may still be the same 1.964-mile length, but it has changed in a number of ways since the last time Power raced there.

“Ideally we need to be on pole,” Power said.

The reason is simple: If Power starts from the pole, he has a better chance of holding off challenges by Dixon and Rossi than trying to play catch-up if they qualify and start Sunday’s race in a higher position.

“If we’re around them, obviously we’ve got to race them very aggressively, need to get by them at the start or at some point,” Power said. “Yeah, it’s just take it as it comes.

“Obviously no one knows what’s going to happen or how it’s going to play out, but we’ve got to be on our toes and make the right decisions.”

But fate could also play a big part in Sunday’s outcome.

Consider:

* Since finishing second at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in mid-May, Dixon has shown incredible consistency, with three wins (Belle Isle 1, Texas and Toronto), and seven other top-five showings (the only bad result in that stretch was 12th at Iowa) in the last 11 races.

* Also since the Indy Grand Prix (finished fifth), Rossi has been on an equally impressive roll of his own. He’s captured two of his three wins this season (back-to-back triumphs at Mid-Ohio and Pocono), has five other top-five showings in that same stretch (including finishing second last week at Gateway), and two other top-10 finishes.

That’s why Power is putting his faith in fate Sunday afternoon, that both Dixon’s and Rossi’s run of good luck turns bad, at least for one race, allowing Power to close the gap with what he hopes is a strong finish on his own part to allow him one last shot at the championship at Sonoma, which awards double points to drivers.

Power has been having a streak of his own of late, which only strengthens his hope that it’s his turn to overtake Dixon and Rossi: he’s coming off a win last week at Gateway, was second at Pocono and third at Mid-Ohio.

Could the odds go in Power’s favor and against the two guys he’s chasing, particularly Dixon?

“I just know being around racing for so long now, it’s just so rare to have a season without a bad race,” Power said when asked by MotorSportsTalk. “It’s just so rare.

“But you know, eventually if you have enough seasons, maybe that falls into place and maybe that’s what’s happening with Dixon.

“But yeah, you’re right. I mean you have years like that where it all falls into place, but it seems as though you will always have a bad race.

“Maybe that won’t happen this year. Or maybe it will. We need that. I don’t wish anything bad, but if he (Dixon) could just have a bad pit stop or something, that would be nice.”

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

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Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.