Will Power ready to return to IndyCar championship form

Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – Any driver who can win two races, score six podiums, claim three poles and finish fifth in the NTT IndyCar Series standings has had a pretty good season.

For Will Power, who celebrated his 39th birthday Sunday, he considers those achievements subpar, at least by his standards.

The Team Penske driver from Toowoomba, Australia, has 37 career INDYCAR wins and 58 poles. Those records include two wins and six poles in the old Champ Car Series.

Power, who scored his only career NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2014, expects to challenge for race wins and championships on a regular basis. Last year, he believed he was out of the championship race before July.

Power found himself in that position because frankly, he couldn’t seem to catch a break.

“Yeah, it’s just nuts,” Power said. “I can’t tell you how many seasons I’ve had with bad starts. I used to have awesome starts. Sometimes, it just doesn’t flow your way. The biggest thing to learn is you can’t be thinking of points and never get in that situation.”

Power was on target to a fast start to the 2019 season with poles in each of the first two races. He finished third in the season opener at St. Petersburg and was dominating the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas when he was in front for the first 45 laps.

As he was among the last cars to make a final pit stop in the 60-lap contest, the yellow flag waved because of a two-car crash involving Felix Rosenqvist and Graham Rahal in Turn 20. Power came into pit lane, but when he pulled out, the driveshaft broke on his No. 3 Chevrolet.

He went from first to worst in the 24-car race. He finished 11th at Barber, seventh at Long Beach and the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis. The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner finished fifth in last year’s Indy 500 and when he finished 18th in the first of two races during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Power was stuck in sixth — as in points, not gear.

Power was able to turn around the disappointing season by learning from it.

The voice in Power’s ear last year was team owner Roger Penske. Now that Penske owns the IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500, he has stepped down from the timing stand to run the entire operation.

Team Penske Managing Director Ron Ruzewski, who manned the top step of Power’s timing stand on the days when Penske was not at the track, becomes Power’s fulltime strategist.

“I’ve had Ron in my ear for a few races, and he is in my ear for practice, so the transition will be really good,” Power said. “The fact he is the technical director and an engineer it is easier for (engineer) Dave Faustino to have a strategist who is also an engineer. They have worked together before. In practice sessions, he discusses engineering changes so that is a good situation.

“I think having that consistency this year will help. Ron will be there every race. Every session.”

The good news for Power last season was in spite of the problematic start, he finished with a flourish. Beginning with the Mid-Ohio contest at the end of July, Power finished fourth, first, 22nd, first and second in the final five races.

His victories came at Pocono Raceway and Portland. His second-place finish was in the season finale at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

“We ended the season very strong, and got back in a good place,” Power said. “Not that I was in a bad place. Everything just started clicking like it just does sometimes.”

If Power gets off to a fast start in 2020, it will give him a completely new outlook – literally.

For the first time in his career, Power will be peering out of his cockpit through an aeroscreen. Power has been one of the test drivers in aeroscreen testing, and its earlier iterations, which IndyCar President Jay Frye announced the safety device in 2018.

This year, every car at every NTT IndyCar Series race will include an aeroscreen.

“The biggest thing is understanding what all that weight will do for the car,” Power said. “We are adding about 50-70 pounds and it will change the characteristic of the car quite a bit, especially on the fast corners. That is definitely a different animal.”

The car will definitely be different, and Power is confident a safer race car will benefit IndyCar.

“It’s definitely in the safest place it’s ever been,” Power said of the series. “Not only because of the windscreen, but also some other things that they’ll implement. I’m hoping they do pit speed limiters on aprons.

“But the fact we have only two superspeedways makes it safer. It reduces the percentage chance of bad accidents, because that’s where all the serious injuries have happened. We have short ovals. They’ve been generally reasonably safe. Obviously, you have road and street courses. It’s the superspeedways with just two of them. And the formula is safer. It’s not a pack race anymore.

“I would say from when I first started racing over here, it’s significantly safer. No matter what you’re doing that speed, things can happen. We saw in Formula 2 at Spa last year; things just can happen at those speeds. It’s never going to be completely safe.

“That’s a risk you take when you race anything.”

Power has accepted those risks throughout his career and not flinched. That has allowed him to accumulate some impressive numbers and close in on some records.

He is 10 poles away from Mario Andretti’s record of 67. That’s a number that entices the Australian.

“It’s just close enough to be far enough away to be annoying,” Power said. “It’s like right there. You just look at it and it gets tougher and tougher every year to get three or more poles, so it’s there.

“If they give me that one in Surfers. I deserve it. That’s a pole position and everyone was there. It’d be a cool one to get. A really cool one.”

Power is referring to the 2008 Nikon Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise on October 25, 2008. Although it featured the full field of IndyCar Series drivers, it was classified as an “exhibition race” because it was nearly two months after the 2008 IndyCar Series concluded at Chicagoland Speedway.

That was the year Champ Car and the old Indy Racing League joined forces to become today’s IndyCar Series. Chicagoland Speedway was contracted to be the series championship race that season.

As Power chases Andretti’s record for most poles, he has stayed race sharp by go-karting and working out. He has also been to the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina four times.

“Now that we have simulators, it doesn’t take that long to get the feel back for the race car,” Power said. “We have the Chevrolet Simulator in Huntersville and that is pretty darn good.

Of course, there is another goal that entices Power and every driver in the series. That is a win in the 104th Indianapolis 500.

Power experienced the glory by winning the 102nd Indy 500 in 2018. Does he feel any pressure knowing that his team owner now owns the Speedway?

“No,” Power said. “It’s just enough pressure with that race. Roger has won 18.

“It’s going to be 20 soon.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”