A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and?yes, some troubling incidents, too ” mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.
The fact that the ?500? winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number?so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden. For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it’s?
4th ” WILL POWER
Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet
Best finish ” 1st, Sonoma, Houston 2, Fontana
Best qualifying ” 1st, St. Petersburg, Texas MS, Fontana
Robin Miller writes?
He qualified first, second or third in 13 of 19 races, wound up leading the most laps (351) of the season, and won three of the final five races. So why did it still seem like Will Power was invisible in 2013?
Probably because he didn’t dominate like he had the previous three years and wasn’t part of the end-of-the-year title hunt like he’d been in 2010, ’11 and ’12. But, make no mistake, even though he had his share of struggles and a couple of high-profile missteps, Willy Boy closed out ’13 as a reminder that he’s still very much a badass in an Indy car.
Following three consecutive bridesmaid finishes in the standings, Power was poised to back up his speed with a first championship but it got off to a slow start and he could never recover. He got speared from behind under yellow while running third at St. Pete, gouged out of the top five at Long Beach by another competitor before his engine blew up in Brazil. A 19th at Indianapolis and a crash in Detroit’s second race effectively had him almost out of the title picture after seven races.
But he qualified 1-3-2-4 in the next four races, all ovals, and came away with a podium (Milwaukee) and a fourth (Pocono). He then outbraked himself fighting Franchitti for third in the first Toronto race, and tangled with Ryan Hunter-Reay the next afternoon while dueling for fourth.
The 32-year-old Aussie, who amassed 14 wins in three seasons after becoming a full-timer for Roger Penske, finally returned to Victory Lane at Sonoma after a good battle with Scott Dixon that ended in a pit lane controversy. He accidentally crashed Dixon on a late restart in Baltimore to rob them both of podiums and a shootout with Dixon at Houston’s opener was thwarted by an untimely yellow, before Power managed to beat his rival from down under to the checkered flag the next day.
At Fontana, the place he lost the 2012 championship with a crash, he rebounded by snatching the pole, leading almost half the race and claiming his second-ever oval win.
?I learned a lot about myself and my racing this season,? he said afterward. ?I learned about restarts and ovals, my weaknesses, and I got better. And man, I was so happy that I finally finished a season strong.?
Marshall Pruett writes?
Will Power learned two valuable things about himself this season. The first point is important, and came early in the 2013 championship, while the second, which came at the very end, could prove to be the most important of all.
Team Penske’s fastest man entered the year with three straight IndyCar Series championship runner-up finishes behind him. Those close-but-not-close-enough results ate at him during each off-season and ultimately led Power to look for a new approach to try the following season.
Rather than continue doing things the same way and ending up with the same outcome, Power, who’s known for his intensity and laser-sharp focus, dialed things back a little bit. In place of the borderline OCD habits he’d used leading up to and during each event, Power opted to let things flow more naturally. Some of his rivals had a reputation for waking up, climbing into a car, and delivering knockout performances, so why not try the same organic approach?
A pole at Round 1 in St. Pete gave Power and his ace engineer Dave Faustino some early optimism the experiment was working, but the chance to turn that pole into a win ended when the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Chevy was clobbered from behind by JR Hildebrand under a yellow (LEFT).
Power and Faustino were one of very few driver/engineer combos to figure out Firestone’s changing road and street course compounds from race to race during the opening events, but Power’s speed in qualifying wasn’t necessarily matched with a worthy result in the races. A fifth at Barber after starting second was his best finish through the first eight rounds. A strong day at Long Beach was ruined on pit lane by Tristan Vautier. Team Penske held Power and teammate Helio Castroneves to run late in the qualifying session at Brazil, which was red-flagged before they could set a representative time, leaving Power to make an epic recovery from 22nd to 11th by lap 17 when a fire at the rear of his car ended their day.
An ill-handling car and a now-rare pit stop problem saw Power’s sixth-place qualifying run at Indy turn into a 19th-place result, and the following weekend’s double-header in Detroit ” which included his infamous, ?He once was a champ, now he’s a chump? quote after being hit by Sebastien Bourdais ” did little to improve his fortunes.
Power was driving well, and some of the poor results weren’t his fault, but after recording his worst start since he became a full-time Indy car driver in 2006, Power learned he needs to keep the internal pressure dialed up in order to get the best from himself.
It didn’t happen overnight, but a pole and seventh at Texas, a third-place start and finish at Milwaukee, a pole at Iowa, and a fourth-place start and finish at Pocono looked a lot more like the Power we’d come to know. In fact, his performances at those four ovals would foreshadow the second lesson that awaited him.
Toronto was a disaster for Power, but starting second and finishing fourth at Mid-Ohio was a perfect recovery. A fortuitous win at Sonoma after Scott Dixon was penalized for striking one of the No. 12’s crew members ended a 483-day winless streak for Toowoomba’s favorite savant.
Baltimore was another disaster for Power, who clipped Dixon on a restart, and he suffered when a pit strategy call left him 12th at Houston 1 after dueling with eventual winner Dixon for most of the day. And then we get to the last two races of the season where, one could argue, Power had his most expected and most defining performances within a span of seven days.
He leapt from ninth on the grid to take second by lap 11, hounded Dixon and took the lead for good on lap 40. Mr. Intensity was back, on form, and untouchable. We hadn’t seen that guy for a while, and by reverting to his former working practices, Power looked like he was comfortable and in control.
At Fontana, Power went out, claimed an emphatic pole, put his stamp on the race by leading 103 of 250 laps and won. No dramas. No mistakes. Pole, led the most laps, won. He also, amazingly, went from being outside the top-10 in points after Mid-Ohio to grab fourth by the end of Fontana.
Add his two other oval poles to the mix, his third-place finish on the Milwaukee short oval, his fourth on the big and genuinely tricky Pocono oval and his cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow performance on the high banks at Fontana, and all the years of Power’s self-doubt about his oval prowess could finally, deservedly be put to rest.
He closed the year on the highest of high notes, knowing he’s finally ready to fight Dixon, Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and any other driver at any track, and at any time. That, for the rest of the paddock, should be a cause for concern.
David Malsher writes?
That Will Power got a perfect points haul on a left-turn-only track ” he took pole and led the most laps on his way to victory in Fontana’s season finale ” was one of the least surprising parts of his season. After all, there had been plenty of signs this year that he could deliver a convincing oval performance. Power led confidently at Indy, took pole at Texas, fought hard to separate his teammate from second place at Milwaukee, was strong at Iowa until a part failed, and could have got second at Pocono had he realized the Ganassi cars of Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti were on the same lap as him as he emerged from the pits. Yes, this was the year when things started clicking into place for Power on ovals.
But it was a weird season on what had traditionally been Will’s bread and butter, the street and road courses, where this year he scored just one pole (St. Petersburg). Although he was robbed by circumstance of the chance to fight for P1 at Sao Paulo, Detroit 1 and Houston 1 and 2, there were other days when he was just plain beaten to pole. Penske was the most consistent team through the year but, with one or two exceptions, it was consistently second best ” behind Andretti in the first half of the season and Ganassi in the second. As usual, Power comprehensively outpaced teammate Helio Castroneves ” his average margin of qualifying superiority in the 11 road/street races where a comparison could be made was a substantial 0.345sec ” but it was Castroneves, not Power, who went to the final round with a shot at the title.
There was definitely a sense of passiveness about Power at the start of the season. He lost the lead in St. Pete to a blatantly jumped restart from Helio, and at Barber his start was horrible (LEFT) and the team immediately went into damage-control mode, trying to make a two-stop strategy work, when surely a three-stopper would have made more sense than running 1.5sec per lap off the car’s potential pace.
Mercifully, being JR Hildebrand’s launch ramp in St. Pete, Tristan Vautier’s crash-mat in Long Beach and everyone’s patsy at Barber shook the team out of its reverie. After that, Power just went for it. Following the qualifying farce at Sao Paulo, he raced from 22nd to 11th in just 16 laps (without touching his push-to-pass boost) before an electrical fire toasted his engine. At Detroit, he burned off his tires too quick in Race 1 and was then shoved into a crash by Sebastien Bourdais in Race 2, but his restarts were exemplary, his passing was aggressive.
At Toronto he outbraked himself while going for third in race 1, collided with Hunter-Reay in Race 2. At Mid-Ohio, the No. 12 team ” like other leading runners ” went into limp-home two-stop strategy mode. At Sonoma Power was relentless in the race and won. At Baltimore he might have won but wiped out himself and Dixon on a restart. In Houston 1 he (and the fans) were robbed of a fine battle with Dixon when the pits closed under yellow as he went a lap longer on fuel than Scott. But the next day he was fast and incisive once more, and took a hard-fought victory against the Kiwi. And then of course came Fontana.
So in a peculiar IndyCar season, Power’s was arguably the most odd of all. He made hardly any mistakes on ovals but made more than usual on road/street courses and there were certainly one or two calls by his team that hurt his championship cause, too. But his bold starts/restarts have soldered shut one of the main gaps in his armor. And he’s proven to himself that trying not to lose is no substitute for a ?trying to win? mentality, in terms of earning results, respect or even self-respect. From here on out, expect Power to always go for gold.