He made as heavy work of the job as anyone in motor racing’s long history but Will Power was able to eke out his first IndyCar championship in the wee hours last Sunday morning. In characteristic style Power made his job as difficult as possible, qualifying on the back row for IndyCar’s season-closing 500-mile race under the lights on the high-banked California Speedway.
At the start Power ambled around on his own at the tail of the field before settling into his task and inching his way forward to finish ninth ahead of primary championship rival and teammate Hélio Castroneves who led the race for a while but eventually came home 14th after a pitlane speeding penalty.
Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya looked strong in the race’s early going but neither Penske driver was in the hunt at the end. Emerging as the dominant player over the final 100 miles was Tony Kanaan who led team-mate Scott Dixon across the line for a Ganassi 1-2. It was the resurgent Ganassi team’s third win in the last four races and Kanaan’s first win since joining the team last winter. Kanaan thus became the 11th different driver to win an IndyCar race this year.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Kanaan said. “We had a team meeting this afternoon and Chip said if you win the last race you get to brag about it for six months. So we did it – 1-2 with great pitstops. We had a couple of close calls this year and I finally got one. We turned the situation around and obviously we’ve got good potential for next year. Obviously, next year will be a whole new ballgame with the aero kits and stuff, but we’ve got a great team and people.”
Meanwhile, Power was exhausted but deeply relieved to finally win the IndyCar title after throwing away his chances in each of 2010, ’11 and ’12. “That was one of the hardest races I’ve ever had,” Power grimaced. “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.”
1 Will Power 671
2 Hélio Castroneves 609
3 Scott Dixon 604
4 Juan Pablo Montoya 586
5 Simon Pagenaud 565
6 Ryan Hunter-Reay 563
7 Tony Kanaan 544
8 Carlos Muñoz 483
9 Marco Andretti 463
10 Sébastien Bourdais 461
11 Ryan Briscoe 461
12 James Hinchcliffe 456
13 Josef Newgarden 406
14 Charlie Kimball 402
15 Justin Wilson 395
16 Mikhail Aleshin 372
17 Jack Hawksworth 366
18 Takuma Sato 350
19 Graham Rahal 345
20 Carlos Huertas 314
21 Sebastián Saavedra 291
22 Ed Carpenter 262
23 Mike Conway 252
24 Oriol Servià 88
Power admitted the last few weeks have been difficult for him and his wife Elizabeth. “The last 14 days have been the worst in my life,” he remarked. “Just mentally and emotionally it’s been so bad, like not sleeping and stressing. I feel for my wife, keeping her awake at night. You never think it can happen and then it happens. We’ve won the championship. I can’t believe it, knowing what’s happened in the past. That’s 15 years of hard work. I’m starting to take it in.
“What a fantastic way to finish the season,” he added. “We’ve got a fantastic group of guys at Penske Racing. And my wife has had to put up with a lot of stress. Now I can relax and she can relax. Now we’re champions.”
Power’s first title is Team Penske’s 13th IndyCar championship and first since 2006 with Sam Hornish. Castroneves made it a Penske championship 1-2 while Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth in IndyCar points behind last year’s champion Scott Dixon.
“I was pushing extremely hard,” Castroneves said. “I knew the only way for me to get in front was through the pits and I knew my in and out laps were working very well, except the last one and I got a drive-through penalty. Well done Will. You’re the champ. Good job and a great season for Team Penske.”
Hoping to score his second win of the year Montoya led 60 laps in California but fell back because of a broken weight jacker, finally finishing fourth behind Ed Carpenter. “Tonight we had a car that could win but we had a problem with the weight jacker,” Montoya said. “I started to struggle on about lap 20. I said the tyres are going off. Then I looked at the weight jacker and it was all the way to the right and when I went to adjust it just wouldn’t work.”
Montoya said he was happy with his results this year and believes he can be a championship contender next year. “This year we never thought about the championship,” Juan commented. “If I could get on the podium once I would have been really happy and we got a pole and won one race. I’m really happy with the car now. I think the ovals have been really good but I want to get a little better on street courses and road courses. I want to get our qualifying better on those tracks.
“It’s me, not the team. I’ve got to work harder during the off-season and get ready for next year. I’ve worked really hard and trained really hard. I’m just pumped and so happy to part of Team Penske. Roger gave me this opportunity and I’m going to use it.”
IndyCar’s final race of the year was remarkable for being accident free. Nor were there any mechanical retirements or engines failures as all but one of the 21 starters completed the 500 miles.
However, Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin was badly injured in a violent two-car crash during Saturday’s practice. Aleshin lost control at the bottom of the track and spun into Charlie Kimball’s path. As a result Aleshin’s car got into the air and cartwheeled along the catch-fencing.
Kimball scrambled unhurt from his wrecked car but Aleshin was flown to a nearby hospital suffering from fractured ribs, a broken right clavicle, a concussion and chest injuries. The 27-year-old underwent surgery for his chest injuries that evening and was reported to be in stable in condition with more surgery expected this week.