Aussie Power closes in on first IndyCar win
This is the fourth in a series of driver profiles leading into the June 2-4 race weekend at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.
Detroit — Will Power, the 2014 IndyCar champion and perennial contender, has seen a lot of good days at the controls in motor sport, beginning 18 years ago with Formula Ford cars in his native Australia.
But Power said he was “really, really enjoying” his race Sunday in the Grand Prix of Alabama.
Starting on the pole, competing was nearly a joyride in his Chevrolet-powered — a 2.2-liter twin turbo V-6, capable of producing 700 horsepower, 2,000 rpms and quite a roar — Team Penske car.
With lots of clean air in front of him, through 17 turns and 2.3 miles of asphalt at the Barber Motorsports Park, Power built a significantly lead, keeping him comfortably out front even after the cycles of pit stops.
Through most of his 60 laps in the 90-lap race, Power led the field.
“I definitely had a lot of speed and was feeling really good,” he said. “It was one of my best races, honestly. I felt I pushed so well.”
Penske needed some good news.
For the first time since 1991, none of the top three teams in the IndyCar Series, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, had won either of the first two races of the season.
In the third in Alabama, Power and Team Penske felt they had the affair under control.
Then, on lap 58, a sudden drop in tire pressure.
“It was just a slow leak,” Power said. “Something had punctured it. It just slowly was going down, and it got down to the level where it became dangerous so I had to pit, unfortunately.”
Power’s promising race finished prematurely, as had his pace-making opening race of the season at St. Petersburg, when a fuel feed issue prevented grasping the checkered flag after he won the pole.
In the second race at Long Beach, Charlie Kimball, shunted Power from the field in a collision on the first lap.
Of his plight in Alabama, Power said, “It was heartbreaking. It was just, off the top, one of those perfect days. We would have taken off, we had so much speed in hand.
“But that’s racing,” he said, still shrugging three days later. “These things happen.”
Through three races, Power is the fastest driver in the series without a win. But he has won a lot in his career, and the twin faces in Detroit, June 2-4, provide a big opportunity to turn things.
At age 36, Power is one of the great IndyCar racers in history.
He is 11th all-time in career wins (29), tied with team mate Helio Castroneves and the former Penske driver Rick Mears.
Last season, he passed three legends of the sport, Johnny Rutherford, Roger Ward and Gordon Johncock. He is within striking distance of Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Bobby Unser and Al Unser Jr.
With Castroneves, he is tied for third on the active wins list, behind Scott Dixon (40) and, the current series leader, Sebastien Bourdais (36).
After the grand prix this weekend in Phoenix, where Power and Team Penske should be strong, and two races in Indianapolis next month, the 2017 championship might shape up as one of the most wide-open in history, when the IndyCar Series hits Detroit.
“Honestly, it’s become very close because Honda had taken a big step,” Power said.
On the tough, idiosyncratic road course on Belle Isle, Power is hoping Chevrolet matches the pace of the Hondas, or his skill keeps them to the rear. A win in the Sunday grand prix last season began his dramatic rally up the standings.
“I love Detroit. The track’s fantastic,” he said. “The racing’s great. You’ve spent the whole month at a track that’s smooth and very fast and you go to a really tight, tough street course that’s very physical and demanding,” Power said. “It’s a real shock to your system.”
Detroit Grand Prix
When: June 2-4, Belle Isle (IndyCar races June 3-4)
TV: Both races on ABC
2016 winners: Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power