Team Penske’s Will Power has the reputation as IndyCar’s fastest man over a single lap. He’s also known for his crushing victories – earned when he’s at his absolute peak of concentration and intensity.
But he’s also known as the Verizon IndyCar Series’ unofficial championship bridesmaid. Three straight runner-up finishes in the standings from 2010 to 2012 showed the Aussie had the goods to win plenty of races – 14 in total – but missed out on too many points when he didn’t land in Victory Lane which kept the IndyCar title from his grasp.
2013 was a turning point for Power as the season opened in abysmal fashion. Finishing in the bottom half of the field in five of the first seven races, Power’s deficit to the championship leaders was insurmountable before the season reached the halfway point.
Oddly enough, somewhere within that unravelling of his championship aspirations came a realization that unleashed what he’d been missing during those three unsuccessful title bids. Power’s normal routine as each season approached involved self-doubt – questioning whether he’d ever win another race – and from that nervous spell, he’d push himself. Few doubted his abilities, so he doubted himself, and by playing that rather unique mind game with himself, Power fueled his own fire, but it had limitations.
Compared to some of his rivals, drivers who went about their business in a relaxed, uncomplicated, and consistent way, Power found he was unable to sustain the focus and intensity to across every round. With his championship hopes already dashed, Power exhaled, dialed down the internal angst and pressure, and found he could reach the same heights without giving himself a migraine headache.
Power ended a frustratingly long winless streak at Sonoma, added two more wins, including one at the season-ending oval race in Fontana, and was the toughest competitor to deal with over the final rounds.
Power’s mid-season reset worked wonders last year, and as the 33-year-old told RACER, he’s ready to start another championship campaign, but won’t give in to his old mental tricks.
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“The biggest change that happened to me last year was not being in the points race,” he confirmed. “And that truly changed my attitude, being very relaxed in every race to just absolutely fighting hard at going to win every instant. It’s actually worked for me really well – not having the normal fear going into races that something is going to go wrong. It’s just like, ‘I can’t worry anymore and I’m going to drive my a** off.’ And that was it. The difference is you’re going into races back when I was at a good points total, you go into races always thinking of all the things that can go wrong.
“Where last year, when you’re not in the points race, you think about all the things that could be good. Like, I could win this thing, if you race hard, it doesn’t matter if something happens. Less pressure. I just realized you can’t think about points; just go for it. That was, I reckon, what separated me from some other guys. That relaxed approach is something you see from [Scott] Dixon and the way he goes racing.”
If Power can keep things light and easy this year, it’s hard to imagine how he’d come up short in his quest for a championship. Dixon, the defending IndyCar Series champion, is the automatic favorite to repeat, and there are a few other drivers that Power will have to overcome if he wants to finish first in the standings, but if all he’s lacked is one change to his mental approach, shouldn’t his newfound outlook push him over the top?
“Man, that’s really hard to predict,” he said. IndyCar is so competitive right now, so tough, that all it takes is a few bad days and no matter how hard you’ve worked or the improvements you’ve made, it can all disappear. Do I feel like I’m ready to go win the championship? Yeah, I really do. Really, for what I’m planning, I’m going to have fun and look forward to the battles. That’s the right way for me to race better. Just more aggressive all the time and not having any of those distractions.”
Power has also worked with his team to tailor his No. 12 Chevy to better suit his handling preferences. Instead of trying to drive around issues, look for Power to spend more time making changes until his Verizon-sponsored car is doing more of the work.
“My guys know I’m always going to give my maximum when I’m in the car, and I think that sometimes hurt me when things weren’t 100 percent right,” he explained. “It’s not that you drive any less hard, but you don’t try and make up for things if there’s time in practice or whatever to stop and make changes. I think that was also one thing that I kind of missed a lot last year. I just think I didn’t have the car right for myself and I dealt with it. When the car is right we’re always in the front. Always. It’s about getting the car closer to the way I drive and getting the most out of it. That’s where I’m at.”
It won’t take long to tell whether Power’s simplified approach will pay off. If everything goes according to plan, and provided he can generate the same degree of speed while adding more consistent finishes, Power knows he can reach his ultimate goal.
“All that other stuff that can cloud your mind, you don’t even think about it; you think about the things that you can control and let the rest work itself out,” he declared. “You have to race in the moment. If I can do that on a regularly, I’m confident we’ll have the season we want to.”