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Racing

How Team Penske’s Will Power Can Join a Select IndyCar Club in 2023

  • Hard as it may seem to believe, only two drivers in IndyCar history (the sanctioning body dates back to 1996) have been able to win back-to-back titles.
  • Even though teammate Josef Newgarden won five races, compared to Will Power’s lone victory last season, Power held on to capture his second IndyCar championship by 16 points over Newgarden.
  • In addition to his run for back-to-back titles, Power also looks to extend his record-breaking aplomb at earning poles, having broken Mario Andretti’s former record of 67 poles.

    After winning his second career IndyCar championship last September, Will Power quipped that he wished the 2023 season could start right away so he could keep his momentum going.

    Well, he had to wait 5 ½ months, but Power is ready to pick up where he left off in Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening Firestone Grand Prix on the temporary street course known as the Streets of St. Petersburg (Florida).

    Power couldn’t have a better place to pick up where he left off, as he’s both a two-time winner and nine-time pole winner at St. Pete.

    “As I say every year, it’s the moment of truth to see where you stack up,” Power said. “It’s very important to get off to a good start. (I’m) usually anxious two weeks before. As it becomes race week, all the anxiety goes away. You feel relaxed, ready to go, knowing all the work’s over for the offseason, and you get to do your job that you love so much. Yeah, can’t wait to get (going).”

    Hard as it may seem to believe, only two drivers in IndyCar history (the sanctioning body dates back to 1996) have been able to win back-to-back titles: Dario Franchitti (actually won three seasons in a row, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2001 and 2002).

    Power would like to add his name to that exclusive short list.

    “I am well-aware I can go back to back, which would be fantastic,” Power said. “But the mentality approach is just race by race, extracting the most out of every single lap basically when you get down to the nitty-gritty.

    “There’s only two people (that have won back-to-back IndyCar titles). That’s crazy. That’s impressive to show how competitive our series is.”

    In a sense, there’s a lot of similarity between what happened to Power last season and the journey former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud took several years ago.

    Pagenaud, who now drives for Meyer Shank Racing, struggled in the 16-race 2015 season, finishing 11th in the final standings with zero wins and just two podium finishes. There were considerable rumors that his time with Penske may be coming to an end if things didn’t dramatically improve—and fast.

    Will Power is IndyCar’s all-time leader in career pole positions with 68.

    Penske Entertainment/Chris Jones

    So in 2016, Pagenaud lit off like a rocket, winning five races and had eight podiums in the 16-race schedule, winning the IndyCar championship—capped off with a season-ending win at Sonoma. The French driver won the title by a hefty 127-point edge over, guess who, Will Power (the only season runner-up finish of his career).

    But after Power’s first championship in 2014, third-place in 2015 (and 2018) and that runner-up campaign in 2016, he struggled for several subsequent seasons, finishing fifth in 2017, 2019 and 2020, and dropped even further to ninth in 2021.

    Much like Pagenaud, rumors abounded about Power’s future and fate. If things didn’t improve substantially, would 2022 be his final season driving for legendary team owner Roger Penske?

    “Honestly going through all that in ’16, ’17, it made me very mentally strong,” Power said. “Through meditation and stuff, just working out mechanisms to deal with it, which I’m sure a lot of people go through. At some point you have no choice but to because there’s no escape to it, nowhere you can go, because it’s just there all the time.

    “It’s made me, going through that tough time, very mentally strong I feel like, able to deal with situations better than I would have before that.”

    Will Power’s biggest challenge this year might just come from teammate Josef Newgarden, who won five races last season.

    JAMES J BLACK

    Even though teammate Josef Newgarden won five races, compared to Power’s lone victory last season, the Australian driver held on to capture his second IndyCar championship by 16 points over Newgarden. And while Newgarden’s five wins led everyone, Power had a much more consistent season overall, with nine podiums and five poles.

    But at the same time, Team Penske continued its legendary “one for all and all for one” philosophy, as between Newgarden’s five wins, Scott McLaughlin’s three wins and Power’s solo triumph, the Penske clan wound up winning nine of the 17 races last season.

    So now that his job security and seat at Penske seem secure for at least another few more seasons, what does Power—who just turned 42 years old on March 1—do for an encore?

    Go for a third championship, obviously.

    “Yeah, I mean, that’s always the goal,” Power said. “It wasn’t just last year I was trying to be consistent. It played out that way very well with that sort of approach. I tried that the year before and had one of those bad seasons.

    “Every season has its flow. Sometimes you have to do more than just be consistent. Sometimes you have to win some races to get out there. We’ll take that as it comes.

    Team owner Roger Penske, left, and Will Power celebrate the IndyCar championship in 2022.

    Penske Entertainment/Chris Owens

    “I know the game so well. I understand the level that I need to be at. I know how it rolls. I’m going to use all that knowledge and wisdom that I have had from so many years in the series to see if we can get another championship, another Indy 500 (he won in 2018, and was runner-up in 2015).”

    Power also looks to extend his record-breaking aplomb at earning poles, having broken Mario Andretti’s former record of 67 poles heading into last year’s season finale at Laguna Seca.

    But ironically, even with all those poles, he’s never sat atop the starting grid at the place he loves the most and the race he loves the most: Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.

    “Yeah, that’s one that’s eluded me for a long time,” Power said. “I’ve had times that I’ve had the car to do it and then just sort of overshot or undershot in some way of trimming or it just hasn’t worked out or the wind — so yeah.

    “It’s a tough one because it’s often out of your hands. It really depends on the car you have that year, the time you go, the temperature—it’s all got to work. Yeah, either it’ll happen or it won’t. Either it’ll all fall in place and it’ll be there, or—yeah.”

    Amazingly, Will Power has yet to win a pole at the Indianapolis 500.

    Icon SportswireGetty Images

    One of the biggest keys for Power to indeed pick up where he left off is to start off 2023 in the same fashion he did in 2022.

    Even though his lone win of the season didn’t come until the seventh race of the season at Belle Isle in Detroit, Power was a picture of consistency in the first five races, finishing—in order—third at St. Pete, fourth at Texas, Long Beach and Barber, and third in the Indianapolis Grand Prix (before a 15th place finish in the Indy 500).

    Getting off to such a strong start early in the season kept Power from dropping no lower than fourth in the standings throughout the season, including being ranked No. 1 after seven of last season’s 17 races.

    “You build (confidence and momentum) when the pressure is not so much on,” Power said. “It probably takes some desperation out, which it shouldn’t because they all pay the same points this year. It’s all the same, so it shouldn’t matter.

    “But for whatever reason, you start off well, it allows you to have a lull and then still be in the game at the end. If you start off well, you get that points buffer, you have a couple bad ones, it allows you to come back.”

    Even though he’s a 42-year-old defending champion, Power believes he can still win even more championships.

    “I think I can be very competitive for another five years,” Power said. “It’s a matter of keeping the desire. I think that’s what gives you that ultimate speed. I think if you lose desire, you’re not going to put in the effort and the energy that’s required to be able to be fast enough in these cars.

    “As long as the desire’s there and the speed’s there, I’ll try to keep racing. Yeah, no question I’ve thought about what do I do after. It’s tough. Like what do you do? You spend your whole life getting to this point. You haven’t built a business or company or something that requires attention all the time. You build a talent and then it just stops, yeah.

    “That’s why I’m never going to put a solid date on it because then you’re racing to that date. Mentally, I think it’s bad for you.”

    But right now, Power is in a good place, one that he wants to stay in.

    “I just think the older you get, the more comfortable you are with the situation,” he said. “You just naturally gain confidence. You know your strengths. You know your weaknesses. You know how to extract the most out of yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.

    “I would say I don’t have much pressure at this time in my career, so it’s all about the craft and getting the most out of it. Yeah, it’s a good space to be in.”

    Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski



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