Full power, brittle calendar…
After knocking on the door for five years, Will Power (above) has at last won the IndyCar title. The Australian looked a likely champion in 2010, ’11 and ’12, only to throw away his chances in the closing stages. This year, his fifth with Team Penske, Power made as heavy work of the job as anyone in motor racing history, eking out his first IndyCar title by finishing ninth in the California 500 finale after qualifying near the back of the field.
Power took the championship by winning three of 18 races and adding a trio of seconds and two thirds. But he had a terrible second half to the season, finishing in the top six only three times. He was exhausted but deeply relieved finally to secure his first IndyCar title.
“That was one of the hardest races I’ve ever had,” Power said. “Oh my God! I’m finally over the line. It just went on and on. I slowly made up positions, but the car wasn’t that great. It’s just surreal, man. I can’t believe it!
“I’m so mentally exhausted right now. My hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight. I want to be a lot more excited but I’m just so drained. I can’t believe I won.”
Power admitted the season’s final few weeks were difficult for him and his wife Elizabeth. “The last 14 days have been the worst of my life,” he said. “Just mentally and emotionally it’s been so bad, stressing and not sleeping. I feel for my wife, keeping her awake. You think it won’t ever happen and then it happens. I can’t believe it, knowing what’s happened in the past. I’m starting to take it in.
“What a way to finish the season. My wife has had to put up with a lot of stress, but now she and I can relax.”
Power’s first title is Team Penske’s 13th in the IndyCar championship, but a first since 2006 with Sam Hornish. Helio Castroneves made it a Penske one-two sweep in the final standings, with Juan Pablo Montoya finishing fourth in Penske’s third car, behind last year’s champion Scott Dixon. The Kiwi and Chip Ganassi’s team had a poor start to the season, but Dixon and Tony Kanaan came through to win three of the last four races.
Champion in 2012, Ryan Hunter-Reay was sixth at the end of the season, behind Simon Pagenaud. Hunter-Reay won three races this year, Indy 500 included, but failed to finish too often to challenge for the title. Pagenaud was impressive in his third year with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports, winning twice.
Next year the new aero kits will appear in IndyCar racing (see last month’s column). Most people believe top teams with the best resources – ie Penske, Ganassi and Andretti – will have the most efficient packages, leaving the smaller teams to struggle.
But IndyCar’s most immediate challenge is putting together a reasonable calendar for 2015. More than 40 CART/Champ Car/IRL/IndyCar races have failed over the past 20 years and the fixture list has become very unstable. By early September, IndyCar’s 2015 schedule was in disarray with the Houston race going out of business and the long-running Toronto event looking likely to be replaced, on a temporary basis at least, by Mosport Park.
Nor were the promoters at the California Speedway pleased with the tiny crowd of fewer than 5000 people who turned out for the season-closer. The track wants a different date next year. Meanwhile, new races are expected on a street circuit in Dubai and a road course in Brasilia, as well as a new road circuit in New Orleans.
If IndyCar is to survive as a professional entity, it must somehow establish a stable calendar of successful races – and that’s a very big challenge.