Category archive: Will Power
There was plenty of hot air blowing Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and it wasn't all atmospheric pressure.
Most of it was coming from the direction of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. After winning the first of the night's twin 275-kilometer races, Dario Franchitti, who is rarely known for making controversial public statements, was not shy about expressing his displeasure over the bad luck of drawing the 28th (out of 30) starting position for the nightcap.
Scott Dixon wasn't much happier after pulling the 18th grid spot, and you have to wonder whether the Ganassi drivers would have sung a different tune had their chief IndyCar Series championship rival Will Power not chosen the No. 3 starting spot.
Team boss Ganassi's grapes weren't any less sour as he called any driver who had the nerve to have drawn a starting spot ahead of Franchitti a "backmarker."
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesWill Power was elated after drawing the third starting position for Race No. 2 of the Firestone Twins 275s at Texas Motor Speedway.
After Power ran strongly on the way to third place in Race 1, the second sprint was clearly his race to lose. And he didn't, claiming a relatively easy victory over Dixon -- who charged from 18th to second after he got done complaining about his draw.
Franchitti drove a masterful race, too, passing 21 "backmarkers" on the way to seventh place and minimizing the damage to his championship hopes. When the Texas twins were over and done with, Dario lost only five points to Power in the championship chase, probably far fewer than the Ganassi team's mismanagement of the final 40 laps of the Indianapolis 500 cost him.
But his image took a hit by what many fans perceived as excessive moaning. The blind draw for the second race may not have created a level playing field, but the rules were the same for everyone. And the estimated 50,000 fans present at TMS seemed to enjoy the halftime spectacle every bit as much as they did the 550 kilometers of clean, fast Indy car action.
On Monday, while at a joint appearance in Boston that named MoveThatBlock.com as the title sponsor for the upcoming IndyCar Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Franchitti and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had a chance to discuss the controversial Texas format. Bernard indicated that changes are already being considered.
"I took a lot of heat for my comments, but people don't understand, in my opinion, the big picture," Franchitti said. "Had they inverted [the Race 1 finishing order] I would have started worse, but it would have been fair for everyone. I would have started last, Scott would have started second-last and Will [Power] would have started 28th. It would have been some performance parameter, and that's all I was asking for."
"We have to evaluate everything we do this year and make sure that we are providing the best competition, entertainment and value to give that great fan experience," Bernard responded. "It was a little bit gimmicky, and I take the blame for it. I think it's important to make sure we sustain credibility, and I'm not convinced that what we did Saturday night does that. A draw takes away from that, especially if somebody loses the championship by five points to a draw."
It's fair to say that the Texas twin races created every bit as much controversy as TMS president Eddie Gossage could have hoped for. With that in mind, here's who emerged as winners and losers after the smoke cleared ...
• Winner -- Will Power. Not only did the Team Penske driver claim his first oval track victory and increase his championship lead to 21 points over Franchitti, he gained positive PR points for basically agreeing that the Ganassi drivers got screwed by the gimmick format. He also was extremely lucky to get away with bumping his left front wing endplate on Takuma Sato's rear tire without damage to either car.
• Winner/sore loser -- Dario Franchitti. The Scotsman dominated Race 1 for an easy victory but could uncharacteristically barely contain his anger after being left with the 28th starting spot in the reverse order blind draw for Race 2. He was right to say that simply inverting the field for Race 2 would have been much more fair -- as well as potentially more exciting for the fans. But he probably could have expressed his feelings more diplomatically.
• Winner -- Scott Dixon. Dixon drove beautifully all night and finished second in both races. He also came up with perhaps the best solution to the Race 2 starting order quandary: award bonus points for the number of cars passed. Maybe next year?
• Winners -- Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Power's Team Penske colleagues both kept their cool and notched solid finishes at Texas -- sixth and third for Briscoe, 10th and fourth for Castroneves. Helio in particular needed a decent result to stabilize his season and put himself back in the frame of mind needed to again challenge for race wins after a horrible start to his 2011 campaign.
• Winner -- Marco Andretti. By finishing sixth in the second race, Andretti matched Franchitti as the biggest position gainer of the night with 21 cars passed. He was Andretti Autosport's top finisher in both races, albeit a lowly 13th place in Race 1.
• Winner -- KV Racing Technology. Before the races, almost no one would have guessed that KVRT would pack up after the Texas twin bill with three intact race cars. But not only did the cars emerge unscathed, Takuma Sato matched a career best with a fifth-place finish in Race 1 and improved 13 places to 12th in Race 2, making him seventh on aggregate for the night. Crash-prone EJ Viso notched a pair of top-10s, and team leader Tony Kanaan claimed finishes of 11th and fifth, helping him maintain fifth place in the IndyCar Series standings.
• Loser -- Oriol Servia. Servia dropped from third to fourth in the points chase after a best finish of 15th place on Saturday night. Servia and Newman/Haas Racing weren't terribly confident about their Texas setup, and the Spaniard was called out by Franchitti for dangerous driving during the first race.
• Loser -- Danica Patrick. On a track where she normally runs well, Danica was not remotely competitive on Saturday night, and eighth place in the second race was a result that flattered to deceive. She also got into a war of words with rookie Jay Howard. Wonder how she'll like TMS in a stock car next year?
• Loser -- Justin Wilson. One of the best road racers in the IndyCar Series had a bad night on the Texas oval, as he was lapped in both races on the way to 17th and 21st places.
• Loser -- Graham Rahal. He suffered the only mechanical gremlin of the night when his Service Central/Ganassi entry had fuel feed problems. Given what happened in qualifying and the race at Indianapolis, did the Ganassi guys simply fail to put enough fuel in the car?
• Winners -- IndyCar Series fans. Whether they were at the track or home watching on TV, they got a heck of a show. A pair of them, in fact.
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Two rounds into the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the jury has delivered a split verdict on INDYCAR's newly implemented double-file restarts.
Fans seem to have enjoyed the wheel-banging action, rising to their feet for every restart in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and tuning in on television for INDYCAR's best TV rating for a race other than the Indianapolis 500 in more than three years.
On the other hand, even after modifications for last weekend's event at Barber Motorsport Park, some competitors have grumbled about the restart procedures and team owners can't be especially happy about the bills they are paying for wrecked cars.
But looking back at St. Petersburg and Barber, the double-wide restarts have been mostly positive for the series. Both races featured first-lap accidents, but they occurred on the actual start of the events, not a restart. Some drivers have taken advantage, while others have fallen asleep at the wheel and fallen victim.
INDYCAR chief steward Brian Barnhart convened a driver's meeting at Barber that, in a series first, was opened up to the media. In the meeting, Barnhart revealed that the drivers would be allowed to start accelerating earlier when approaching a restart (325 yards instead of 200 at St. Pete) and that the restart speed would be increased.
Reaction to the changes from the drivers was generally upbeat.
"We probably got a better exchange of ideas and information, and a better understanding of what the needs are from both points of view than we ever have," said 2008 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was crashed out during the chaotic race start at St. Petersburg. "But the drivers need to actually listen to the changes.
"The problem is, when the green flag drops, we all get a bit stupid."
"It's a learning process for everyone involved," Barnhart said. "We've made a pretty radical change from how things have been done for over a decade. They're going to have to adapt and improvise."
Both races were marred by a series of full-course cautions following accidents on restarts, lending credibility to the old adage "cautions breed cautions." But some drivers were keeping all four wheels on their cars and made considerable progress through the field as a result of their aggression and the misfortune of others.
At Barber, Tony Kanaan gained 10 places on the race start and the first restart after a poor qualifying performance left the Brazilian starting from the back of the 26-car field.
"We stayed out of trouble, and especially nowadays with the double-file restarts, that's what you've got to do," Kanaan said. "For the fans and the racing, the restarts looked more exciting.
"I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. I mean, every restart had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one had a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there. It's 50-50 right now."
Championship leader Will Power has run at the front of the field in both races, leading at Barber from start to finish. He was therefore not involved in the fracas breaking out behind him, but he's still not a fan of the new restarts.
"Talking to the majority of the drivers, we don't like it because of the encounters it causes, but at the end of the day we can make it work by giving each other respect and room," Power said. "Maybe if we go a little earlier it will spread things out. The more you spread them out, the safer it is."
One thing everyone is in agreement about: double-file restarts could produce mass destruction at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, thanks to the long Shoreline Drive straight leading into a very tight first-gear first corner.
Rumors persist that INDYCAR officials will shelve the two-wide restarts this weekend because of the layout of the first turn on the Long Beach street course.
"The restarts are my biggest worry at that track, into Turn 1," Power said. "It's going to be worse than St. Pete."
"I agree with that," added Dixon. "I think the style of the Barber track lends itself to a cleaner style. I think Long Beach is going to be a different story."
The 28-year-old native of Toowoomba, Australia, was running away at the front of an IndyCar Series exhibition race in Surfers Paradise, Australia, when he lost concentration and crashed.
Later that night, the crestfallen driver ran into Team Penske President Tim Cindric. It was a meeting that Cindric was unable to forget.
It also happened that Cindric was on the lookout for a driver to potentially substitute for Penske regular Helio Castroneves, who had just been indicted by the U.S. government for tax fraud.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntoshWill Power won the pole for the IndyCar Series race July 25 in Edmonton, Alberta.
After briefly chatting with Power, Cindric knew he had found his man.
"I really didn't know him too well," Cindric recalled. "We were out that night and ran into him, and I asked him about [the crash]. He said, 'I made a mistake. I feel terrible, but that's what it was.' He was able to man up to the whole situation.
"I was impressed by the way he handled that. He's made that mistake now. You don't make those kind of mistakes more than once, usually."
As they talked further over the next few weeks, Cindric became even more convinced that Power had the right attitude for a job that offered plenty of potential, but little in the way of promises.
"It came down to his focus, determination, and you could tell that from an appreciation level and an opportunity level, this was a much bigger deal to him than it was for really anybody else we talked to," Cindric related. "We didn't know how the situation was going to play out, and there could have been a lot of gray areas.
"You didn't need a guy who was going to ask a lot of questions or put a lot of pressure on you, saying, 'When is it going to be my deal?' You didn't get the sense he was trying to steal Helio's program. You got the sense he was truly there to help with the situation, and whatever happens happens. That's what we needed. We needed something that would complement the situation, not complicate it."
Power made the most of his limited opportunity with IndyCar racing's most historic and successful team. He drove Penske's No. 3 car -- Castroneves' car -- to a solid sixth place in the IndyCar Series season opener at St. Petersburg. Then when Castroneves was cleared of his charges on the opening day of the Long Beach weekend, Penske rolled out another car, which Power promptly qualified on pole position.
Power's reward was a run for Penske in the Indianapolis 500, which in turn led to an additional five starts for the Aussie. He has made the most of the chance, never finishing lower than ninth and claiming two poles and scoring an impressive victory at Edmonton.
"In the position he was in, there was no clear-cut answer, but he's never missed a beat," observed John Erickson, who has managed Power's third Penske car, crewed by a group that usually prepares Penske's entry in the Rolex Grand Am sports car series. "At Long Beach, one day he was in the 3, the next day he was in the 12, and his attitude was like, 'No worries.' And he put it on the pole and drove a good race.
"He's just set the example for the way you would want anybody to handle it. He's a good racer, a good strategist during the races and a pleasure for everybody to work with. I've been impressed. Obviously the results are there, but his personality has fit right in. He's been a treat."
Now in his fourth full season on the American open-wheel scene, Power is indeed making his mark. He gained the reputation for being fast over one lap but sometimes inconsistent during his two-plus years in the Champ Car World Series (where he scored three race wins, including the IndyCar sanctioned 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach). Thrust into the IndyCar Series when Champ Car folded, Power occasionally struggled to master oval racing.
Of course, now that he has aligned himself with the best team in the business, even if it is on a part-time basis, Power has proved to be a quick study. He has been smooth, fast and consistent every time he has taken to the track in a Penske-prepared machine.
"I didn't really contemplate much when I got the call from Roger," Power said. "I needed to be in a place exactly like this. You've always got a good car that never breaks down and I'm just finishing the races where it should finish. The first thing is to bring the car home, the next thing is to be fast and show that you can race well.
"I have driven differently this year, when I think about it. At Penske, you realize that sometimes you need to sit back and watch things unfold and sometimes you need to go. I definitely think about it more. We need to keep doing the job like that to have a better chance to be somewhere full time next year."
Cindric and Erickson definitely like what they have seen to date.
"On track he's probably exceeded our expectations, given the limited amount of seat time he's had with us," Cindric remarked. "Off track, it's really his approach to the thing that's given him the opportunity. It would have been pretty simple when Helio came back to just let Will go, basically, because we didn't have any commitments beyond that. With the way he handled that whole situation in Long Beach, we felt like if there was any way we could put something together for Indy for him, we really wanted to do that. But that was kind of where our loyalty card ended.
"Then it was a matter of trying to put together a proper program to run some limited races this year to see what we could do for a three-car program next year, whether it's limited or full time. The fact that he's still with us means that there is still hope."
For Power, the gamble of taking a part-time role this year with Team Penske rather than waiting on landing a full-time ride with another team has more than paid off. At this point, it would be a surprise if Penske didn't find a way to expand to three cars full time next year, which would mark the first time since 1994 that the team would run a three-car effort.
"I guess I showed I can run at the front week in and week out, especially on the road courses," Power said. "Even at the [Indianapolis] 500, I ran at the front and had a very good race there.
"I don't know if it's about showing people. Honestly, I just want a full-time ride, and I think I can win a championship if I'm given the opportunity. But I haven't been thinking too far ahead either. I've just been enjoying it and having fun."