ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—IndyCar champion Will Power put his Penske Racing Dallara Chevrolet on the pole for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his fifth St. pole in six years, setting himself up to compete for his third win is those same six attempts.
After the qualifying session Power spoke frankly about his off-season, aero kits, and IndyCar racing in general.
Power had been on the cusp of winning his first championship three times, only to be foiled by a last-minute accident, or pit or strategy error, or some other disaster. He started 2014 saying he was changing his mindset, racing just to win races while ignoring championship points.
It worked. Power took the title with three wins, three poles, and 14 top ten finishes, tying 2013 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay for most wins, and topping the field in poles and top tens.
Winning the title made for a much more relaxing off-season, Power said after qualifying: “Winning the championship makes it a very pleasant off-season. You’re not sitting around wondering why you didn’t win again. Yeah, I’m enjoying it.”
Even after winning a championship, winning his fifth St. Pete pole was “very satisfying’ because winning poles, or races, is so tough given the depth of driving talent in the field.
“You don’t see anyone getting more than three or four poles during a season now. It’s the same for wins,” he explained. “Anytime you’re at the front of an IndyCar field, it’s awesome.”
Winning the pole didn’t guarantee a race win, Power pointed out.
“Racing’s always a different story to qualifying. Everything’s got to fall your way on race day. You know how it can go, so you just focus on the things you can control.
“A bit of guesswork with this new body kit. Don’t know how the tires will degrade, that type of thing. Just have to manage the best we can.”
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Power had worried that the new aero kits would destroy the competitiveness which has been a hallmark of IndyCar racing since the introduction of the new car and engine formula in 2012. He was surprised to see that the fight was still tough, with the Honda-powered cars wearing the Honda aero kit being just hundredths of a second off the pace of the fastest Chevys.
“When you think about it, different engine, different body kit, but very similar lap times.”
“I was kind of worried that the competitiveness of this series wouldn’t be such this year. But it is. It’s right there as it was,” Power continued.
“To me it’s the toughest open-wheel series in the world to compete in, and probably the best racing that fans can watch. We just got to get it out there because I think people would love it.”
Power pointed out that even with the aero kit-inspired uncertainty, strategy wouldn’t change—”I think it will be the same old story,” he said.
“It depends where you qualify. You get the guys who are kind of out of the top 10 will try to catch an early yellow, pit early, go off strategy.
“That’s the problem with the way the pits works. It closes. If you get caught out, it’s almost like having a drive-through penalty. You have to keep that in mind. Especially if you’re at the front, you can get absolutely hosed.
“It might be better to just take off into the distance.”
Power wasn’t worried about the durability new aero kits—at least the Chevrolet kit: “I think we’re good. We just have two little rabbit ears to knock off. Once they’re gone, great.
“The Honda definitely has a lot more stuff to knock off, so they probably have to be a bit more careful.
I don’t think it’s going to change the racing. You can still bang side to side without knocking too much crap off that’s going to make a difference anyway.”
Power was critical that the design of the new aero kits somewhat limited visibility by blocking the mirrors. “I think they should not have allowed anything above the height of the tire. I don’t know why they allowed all this stuff. It wasn’t really necessary,” he opined.
Will power made it clear that working for a powerhouse team like Penske Racing was a plus, even though he was one of four very competitive drivers.
“I think just the way the team is, the team mates, it provides a lot of motivation.
“All four drivers have a lot of experience, have worked with a lot of different teams. Not Helio, but everyone else. But, you know, he’s old, so he knows how to get along with people.
“But honestly, it seems as though Penske employs people with lots of experience. That’s the case there. So we know how to work together. I don’t think it’s a problem.
“I know when you’re younger, you’re working in a team with someone, it can be very intense, mind games, all that, but that definitely doesn’t go on at Penske. Just very experienced guys, great work ethic.”
The IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes the green flag at 3:30 p.m. local time on Sunday, March 2p, capping off a long day of racing action including races by USF2000, ProMazda, Pirelli World Challenge, Indy Lights, and Super Stadium trucks.
Tickets are still available at the event of through the Grand Prix of St. Pete website.