Power’s chance at Astor Cup dependent on fellow contenders performances

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Will Power is no stranger to fighting for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. He won back in 2014 after years of trying. He has been in close contention the past two seasons with 5 others battling him in 2015 and Scott Dixon taking the title; Simon Pagenaud was his only sparring partner in 2016, and the one that he lost to even though they were both pleased to bring home another championship to Roger.

Team Penske’s odds are good again this year, with all four drivers in the mix, including Power who currently runs P5 with the most ground to gain today and tomorrow. So how do Will Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevy crew handle that pressure? The game plan is very straight-forward:

“Our aim is to qualify on pole and win the race in order to have our best shot at winning this championship.”

Seems simple enough. Especially considering that they know exactly how to execute said plan – Power has won 3 times at Sonoma, and he’s done so from the pole position the first two times in 2010 and 2011. The third victory came in 2013 from P3. He’s earned the a total of 5 times, marking him the most successful Indy car driver at Sonoma Raceway.

The tactic is not an uncommon one, and seems to be what all the championship probables are planning – approaching the weekend as any other, and earning as many of those 4 bonus points as possible on their way to, preferably, a race win and those 100 points awarded to the victor.

Speaking of, I haven’t talked to anyone that wants double points to stick around – everyone wants to be rid of them. I’m one of them. But I’ve argued in the past that if we have to have them, they should only be present for the 500-mile races since those are twice the distance of a usual race and it’s the only way implementing them seems fair. Earlier this week though, Power brought up a reason why this should absolutely not be the case for the most famous of 500-mile races, and I can’t argue the point. He’s 100% correct:

“Double points at [the Indianapolis 500] is ridiculous. The guys that caused accidents at Indy this year were not full-time guys and they took points away from championship contenders. It’s not right.”

It’s not. And discontinuing double points at the season finale is not something he wants to be rid of for any self-interest. Heck, if we didn’t have them this weekend, he would be out of contention entirely for the Astor Cup. In actuality, his chances are very slim and really depend on the four guys in front of him having horrible race weekends, something that none of them are prone to. At least not on any regular kind of basis. Dixon and Pagenaud rarely make mistakes and the ones Newgarden and Castroneves make, tend to be freak incidents.

This track is known for its variable conditions from Turn 1 to Turn 11 though, so a wrench – in the form of a wind gust –  being thrown into someone’s day is not out of the question. Power knows what to expect when racing at Sonoma Raceway in September, explaining that the wind can change everything, admitting that he thinks that makes it a cool track.

Sebastien Bourdais confirmed those conditions after the test day concluded on Thursday,

“It just seems to be kind of hit-and-miss, really difficult to put the lap together. You have one car when the wind is that way, you have another car when the wind’s going that way, and it changes in a matter of 30 seconds.”

Pagenaud echoed that feedback after the practice sessions on Friday, where he ran second quickest of the day,

“It is hard to pass and follow. It’s obviously an interesting track with a lot of elevation changes, and then when you’re behind a car with those elevation changes, it really affects the aero of the car. Same with the wind. As soon as you slide a little bit, you really put a lot of stress on the tires, and then the tires go off.”

That all boils down to one thing – a long shot is still a shot. And Power is not one to back off because the odds aren’t in his favor. Take a look back at last season if you need a reminder of his perseverance – he wasn’t even able to race on the Streets of St. Petersburg due to illness and he finished the season second in points.

This week he was in the ocean and ended up hyperextending his knee and getting a bone bruise… yet it’s had no effect on his performance whatsoever and he reported no pain in the car at all.

You just can’t knock this guy down. Mother nature tried, and even she failed! Watch for him to make moves in Turn 4 during restarts and to look for windows of opportunity in Turns 7, 9 and 11… these are some of his admittedly favorite places to pass at Sonoma. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will not disappoint and with the championship still up for grabs you must remember that Power is always a threat, and he strikes when you least expect it.  

 


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Photo credit: Chris Owens, IndyCar