For Will Power, IndyCar’s off-season provides time for reflection

Chris Owens/IndyCar
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Though IndyCar’s lengthy off-season may feel like an eternity to some fans, for drivers the time away from the track presents an opportunity to reflect on another year gone by and to catch up on tasks that would have been difficult to complete during the thick of the racing calendar.

For Team Penske’s Will Power, his off-season is much busier than many fans may realize. Even though drivers like himself may be out of the public eye over the next few months, that does not necessarily mean they aren’t at work, and more often than not, their agenda changes from day to day.

“There’s plenty of different stuff that you do,” Power told NBC Sports. “It’s not a set routine until you get fully into training [later in the off-season] and get up every day to go to the gym.

“You could be doing some PR stuff, obviously we have a test at Indy [an IndyCar aeroscreen test at IMS in October]. I have a wedding to go to, then I’ll go to Australia for three weeks to do some stuff down there and obviously see the family.

“Then I’ll come back. I think I’m going to do a go kart race in Vegas in November, and I have a 21st birthday party for a young kid, so there’s various things. On top of that, you start preparing for the next season as you get into December.”

Still, even though drivers like Power keep busy during the off-season, they still do have some opportunities to just rest and reflect on the previous season, and Power says that whether or not these reflection sessions are positive or negative can all depend on a driver’s performance over the course of the previous season. 

“If you have a bad season you definitely reflect on why and what could have been better,” Power said. “That even starts before the end of the season, reflecting on why we struggled.”

There will likely be plenty for Power to reflect on this off-season. Though it appeared that he would be a title contender early on in the season when he scored two poles in the first two races, the first three quarters of 2019 season turned out to be very disappointing for the Aussie.

In IndyCar’s inaugural visit to the Circuit of the Americas in March, Power appeared to be on-track to his first victory of 2019, as he led the race’s first 45 laps from the pole.

However, a mechanical issue would end Power’s afternoon, and he finished the race dead last. Over the next 11 races, Power would finish on the podium only twice.

“It was such a pity that not winning that COTA race really started a trend of just bad results,” Power said. “That should of been a win for us, and obviously the gearbox blew up and it went yellow, so we were done no matter what happened there.”

However, the tides began to turn for Power as the season began to close. He scored his first victory of the year in the rain-shortened 500-miler at Pocono Raceway, and then followed up with a second victory two weeks later at Portland – the 37th of his career.

Power would the end 2019 season with a second-place finish in the season finale at Laguna Seca and with a respectable fifth-place finish in the overall point standings. Not bad at all for a driver who almost looked as if he was going to go winless for the first time since 2006

“I was just happy to get a couple of wins,” Power said. “I was thinking ‘man, I don’t want to go winless this season,’ so I was really happy to get those two wins.

“Obviously we had a very bad start to the year, and man this was just a nice way to go out.”

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Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.