INDIANAPOLIS – One way or another, Will Power of Team Penske always seems to be in the middle of the action.
Quite often, it means a trip to Victory Lane. But at the Indianapolis 500, he often becomes a victim of his own mistakes.
Power has become the best driver of Sunday’s field of 33 that has not won the Indianapolis 500. Ryan Hunter-Reay removed his name from that list with his thrilling victory in Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500 when he finished 0.0600-seconds in front of three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Tony Kanaan also shed that dubious distinction when he won last year’s Indy 500 for the first time in 12 attempts.
The fierce and fearless driver from Toowoomba, Australia knew he had the team and car to win this year’s Indy 500 and was happy with his Row 1 starting position. He hoped to be in the middle of the action and he was, leading twice two times for 22 laps.
But when he made a pit stop on Lap 127, he was penalized by INDYCAR for speeding on pit road. He served the penalty three laps later but that doomed his chances at his first victory in the Indy 500.
The first 150 laps of the race were run under green flag conditions and that penalty was more than Power could overcome. He fought his way back to finish eighth on the lead lap.
“It was unbelievable that it went green for that long,” Power said. “We just screwed ourselves. A bloody speeding in pit lane penalty just ruined our day. Otherwise, we would have been in a great shape.
“We had dropped back a little bit further than we wanted but it wasn’t bad. I could see the guys in the front dicing back and forth, as I thought it would be.”
“At the end of the day you are going for the win and facing competitive guys. I seem to have something happen in the race (the Indy 500). These days it’s so bloody competitive it’s almost impossible to go through a race without contact from someone. A few years ago you could take off into the distance with no problem but these days you can’t.”
Power will race any driver hard and deep into the corner. He loves the competition and has often found himself at odds with such legendary drivers as Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
“I would say I’m a Charger,” Power said. “In a points race you can back out of certain situations. But in my mind you have to be pretty damn sure you are going to pull off the move before you do something. You know when you are going for a risky move in your mind and if the other driver doesn’t give a bit you are going to come together.
“The best guys understand where that give-and-take is.”
Power looks at drivers such as Kanaan and Oriol Servia as drivers who are great judges of racing situations; putting themselves in the right position all the time.
“They may not be the quickest but they are very, very smart,” Power said. “Then you have guys unbelievably quick that put in the same situation might have contact. The driver that has the all-around best combination of that is usually the guy that wins.
“You can take a fast driver and slow him down but you can’t take a slow driver and speed him up.”
That perfectly explains Power as a race driver. He has the speed but sometimes needs to be less aggressive. He learned that in 2010 when he was regularly winning road course races for Team Penske.
“Last year, I wasn’t in the points so I took more risks and started racing a lot harder,” Power said. “That is my approach now. You keep everything in mind but have to get close to that limit without overstepping it.
“I try to get the most out of every situation at any given time. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, I had to save a lot of fuel just to finish so I finished eighth and got the most out of the situation at the time.”
When Power first came to the United States, he was involved in Champ Car and did not compete in the Indianapolis 500. After Champ Car and the Indy Racing League came together to form the IndyCar Series in 2008, Power was amazed at how big the Indianapolis 500 was, and now dearly wants to win the event.
Power finished 13th in his first Indy 500 for KV Racing in 2008. He started ninth and finished fifth for Team Penske in 2009 and was eighth in 2010. Since then, however, he has finished 14th, 28th, 19th and now eighth at Indy.
“I feel like I’ve had some good chances get away here,” Power said. “In 2009 on the last stop I came in second and came out sixth. I had a very good car with Team Penske. In 2010 I had a really fast car and had two bad pit stops that cost us. In 2012 I hit the wall after Mike Conway spun.”
The nature of the Indianapolis 500 is a driver can have a car capable of winning and get sucked up in another driver’s crash.
Power puts his heart and soul into his craft as a race driver but is able to move on without having it drag him down. He is a fantastic race driver and entered the Indianapolis 500 as the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader.
He just wanted to win the big race on Sunday though, and would have thought about the points race later.
“This is like a game of musical chairs – you land in the right spot at Indy you are going to win it,” Power said.
With 20 career victories, Power is closing in on some of the all-time great names of IndyCar racing history.
“I’ve had a lot of winning in a short period of time,” Power said. “If I retire without a title or an Indianapolis 500, at least I would have some pretty important numbers next to my name.
“When I won the 500-mile race on the oval at Fontana, California last year, that gave me confidence that I can win the Indianapolis 500. The tracks aren’t the same but it’s still a 500-mile race.”
For a driver to win a 500-mile race in IndyCar is a big deal. This year, there are three 500-mile races that make up the Triple Crown – Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana.
“The ovals last year were great for me and I had some great finishes,” Power said.
The Australian is surrounded by winners at Team Penske. Roger Penske’s cars have won a record 15 Indianapolis 500s. Rick Mears is a key part of the team and won four Indy 500s as a driver. Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and a third Team Penske driver is Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner.
It appeared to be time for Power to step up and win at Indianapolis for Team Penske.
“You do think about that,” Power said. “To go across the line you think of what it would mean. It builds on you the longer you are at this place. If you are on a team like Penske where you can do it that builds on you.”
One year it will be Will Power’s year in the Indy 500.
“Man, I would love that,” Power said before the race. “I plan on being in the middle of it all.”
But it wasn’t this year. And now Power will have to wait another year for that, however, because the man who was fast on the track was too fast in the pits.Indy 500, IndyCar, Team Penske, Will Power