Eight months after crossing the yard of bricks, Will Power ticked one of the last ceremonial boxes for an Indianapolis 500 winner when he collected his replica Borg-Warner Trophy at the NAIAS in Detroit on Wednesday evening.
The 24-inch ‘Baby Borg’ replicas of the perpetual Borg-Warner Trophy have been given to Indy winners since 1988.
“Obviously it was a real honor to get up there with Roger [Penske] in front of the head of GM and receive the trophy,” Power told RACER.com.
“Everything that has gone with winning the race has been just fun, and exciting, and I’ve really enjoyed it, and this was another reminder of winning the biggest race in the world.
“I was really looking forward to getting the Baby Borg, because I didn’t realize you got your face on that as well. I’ve seen my portrait on the big trophy a couple of times and it’s kind of funny… you don’t know what to think about it, but it’s a cool thing to be in there among all these legendary drivers that have won the 500 in the past.”
After accepting the Baby Borg for the winning owner, Roger Penske said that the Power’s achievement was proof of the work he’d put into oval racing – an area that had not been his natural habitat when he first arrived in the IndyCar Series.
“Certainly well-deserved,” Penske told RACER.com. “I think that’s what it was so special last year. I don’t have a favorite driver or a favorite win, but this one was pretty special. Will’s ability to learn on the ovals… he was the best on the road courses, best in qualifying, but he didn’t have the experience on the ovals, and he has worked hard with his engineer and with the team, and certainly he didn’t win [the 500] by luck. He drove to the front and won the race.”
Penske’s record of 17 Indy 500 wins as an owner is among the most imposing in the record books: nobody else has more than five. (A tally shared by Lou Moore and Michael Andretti). From Penske’s standpoint, the Baby Borg is as much a testament to the work put in by the team as it is Power’s performance at the wheel.
“When you have 17 Baby Borgs and you look a the career our team has had… I guess my job is to pick up the trophies, but it’s really about Tim Cindric and that whole team and what they’ve done over the years,” Penske said.
“And when you go back over the years and the many people that have been involved with us, they’ve all made a huge difference. We’ve just stayed up with it. We have very little turnover; people grow within the company, within the race team, and that’s the secret sauce, because when we go to Indy, I think we’ll have over 400 years of [collective] experience to put behind the four cars we’ll run this year. That continuity makes a huge difference, and I think it’s a competitive advantage.
“I don’t need to finish second when you’ve win as many times as we have. But we don’t win all the races, and you just have to be good losers and work harder to be better the next race, and that’s what we continue to do. One of the problems we have is, we know all the pitfalls and we try to plan for the pitfalls, and some people out there don’t even know that this thing could happen. That makes our job even tougher, the high expectation from our sponsors and our drivers that we’re going to produce a winner.”
Having seen first-hand the impact that Indy success had on drivers in the past, Penske is convinced that Power will step up another level heading into 2019.
“No question he’s got the confidence now; he knows he can do it,” he said. “He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in, and in the testing we’ve had, he has been excellent. But he’s a different guy now. He broke through. When you do that, you know you’re a winner. It’s a big part of your resume, and if you don’t have that – even if you’ve been champion – it makes a big difference.”
Penske’s optimism was echoed by Power himself.
“I have as much motivation as I’ve ever had – a lot of energy, and I’m fitter than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’m just really looking forward to the season. I’m aware that this doesn’t last forever. You can’t race for your whole life, so I want to make the absolute most of the next few years – enjoy it, but be very successful.
“My confidence… I love oval racing now. It is seriously my favorite part of IndyCar racing. It’s funny, now I have to think about how I can improve on the street courses, where I’ve struggled a little bit over the last year.
“But if I look at the season as a whole, there’s just no weakness there. It’s just a matter of getting it put together and trying to have a season with no mistakes, and that’s what’s stopped us a few times. When I think about the last decade of racing, and the amount of races that I have won in that time, I really feel like I should have two or three championships.
“But you have to try to minimize the mistakes. It’s not always mistakes – last year we had mechanical failures, I made a couple of mistakes, we had that thing at Barber where it was wet and I just aquaplaned into the wall… eliminate a couple of them, and you’re right there. If I can get a clean season, I think we’ll be in really good shape.”