Will Power believes this generation of IndyCar drivers are ‘most competitive ever’

8 Comments

PORTLAND, Oregon – With each victory in the NTT IndyCar Series, Will Power keeps climbing the ranks of the winningest drivers of all-time in the history of IndyCar racing.

His victory in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland was his 37thcareer win, tying him with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais, who continues to race for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan.

Two more victories will move the Team Penske driver into a fifth-place tie with the great four-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Al Unser. Five more wins would tie him with Michael Andretti at 42 victories.

The top three winningest drivers ever are AJ Foyt with 67, Mario Andretti with 52 and Power’s contemporary, Scott Dixon, with 46.

Foyt, Andretti and Unser were all part of what many believe to be IndyCar’s “Greatest Generation” of drivers. That was the period that covered the 1960s and lasted through the early part of the 1990s.

Power is closing in on the top-five in career wins and that would put two drivers from today’s era into the elite category of greatest drivers in IndyCar history.

INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King“You’ve got to look at this generation as one of those generations when you had AJ, Mario and the Unsers,” Power responded to a question from NBC Sports.com. “With Dixon and I’m sure Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden, these guys are going to be around for a long time.

“That’s going to be an era that kids look up to, like ‘Wow, that was a great era of competitive IndyCar racing, probably the most competitive era ever.’

“I’ve been thinking that. You look at the field, the series, the teams now, it’s just so cool to be a part of it right now, and it’s growing, and the continuity of drivers, new teams coming in, it’s fantastic.”

When Power arrived in the United States at the end of the 2005 season, his first test for Walker Racing came at Portland International Raceway – the same road course he conquered on Sunday.

He ran the full season in 2006 and was pretty much known as the “Driver from Australia with the Funny Name.”

Think about it – “Will Power?”

In 2007, he won two Champ Car Series races and finished fourth in the championship. Champ Car folded before the 2008 season and many of its teams joined the old Indy Racing League to create today’s INDYCAR. Walker Racing was unable to make the jump, but Power found a ride at KV Racing Technology. He drove to victory at Long Beach that year.

Rival team owner Roger Penske liked what he saw from the driver from Toowoomba, Australia and with Helio Castroneves’ availability uncertain in 2009 because of a tax evasion trial, Power was offered a fill-in ride with Team Penske. Castroneves was acquitted of all charges, but Penske kept Power on the team in a limited role. He won the race at Edmonton later that year.

He had a full-time ride at Team Penske in 2010 and won five races that season.

Power and Penske were on their way with one of the greatest combinations of driver and team during this decade.

And now, a strong case can be made that Power belongs on the list of greatest drivers of all-time along, joining Dixon from the current generation of racers.

In Power’s case, however, he could have achieved more by now.

“I get very disappointed in my career because of some of the things I’ve let go,” Power said after winning for the second time in the last three races. “I feel like I should have been champion more times (he won the championship in 2014). But it’s something that you look at. After you win the Indianapolis 500, you’re very satisfied with your career and that paves the way, and then the next year you’re like, ‘Man, I need to start winning races, again.’ It’s disappointing.

“Sometimes you can forget that you’ve had a great career.

“But it’s a tough series. It’s tough to win races, so any win you get, you’re just over the moon. But any win I get at the moment and any pole I get, the pole is getting me closer to Mario’s all-time record, and any win I get moves me up the all-time list, and I think you’d be lying if you don’t look at that stuff at times.

“You don’t think about it when you’re driving, but I know Dixon would most definitely look at that stuff, too. He might say he doesn’t.”

To this day, Power has a hard time even imagining himself in the same category as the “Legends of Racing.”

“Because you’re up amongst drivers that you idolized as a child, as a kid, so it’s just kind of surreal that you can put yourself up amongst names like Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Michael Andretti, the Unsers, these names that for me, people that always seemed above me because it’s somebody you idolized as a kid,” Power admitted. “It doesn’t seem right to have your name amongst them, when you really idolized someone, even if you’ve reached the same level as them in your career.

“It still feels like they’re above you, untouchable.”

 

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

1 Comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”