Veteran Power IndyCar king again at last on strange weekend

Indycar Racing News

Will Power snared the IndyCar title at Laguna Seca, eight years after his last, but an unusual mood hangs over the paddock elsewhere

Will Power lifts the 2022 IndyCar championship trophy at Laguna Seca

Power celebrates his second IndyCar title, eight years after the first

Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

What is it they say about old dogs and new tricks? Will Power defied that old cliché this year by dialling back his signature all-or-nothing aggression in favour of a more measured attack – and it worked a treat as the Australian clinched a second IndyCar Series title to go with the first he won way back in 2014. For all the talk of the new generation headed by Alex Palou, Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, America’s premier single-seater championship was won by a 41-year-old who played the long game quite beautifully in 2022.

Power only scored a single victory this season, his 41st in IndyCar, on the streets of Detroit. Rewind and compare to 2010 and 2011 when he won five and six times respectively – and yet still missed the title. This time, good old consistency was key as he delivered Penske its 16th IndyCar title. A pair of seconds, six thirds and an early trio of consecutive fourth-place finishes were the backbone of his success and put him into a position of strength heading into the Laguna Seca finale last weekend.

In total, five drivers arrived in California with a mathematical chance of snatching the crown, but realistically only team-mate Josef Newgarden and 42-year-old Scott Dixon – bidding to equal AJ Foyt’s record of seven IndyCar championships – were genuine threats to Power. They were both 20 points back, with Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson 39 behind and ex-Aussie Supercars king Scott McLaughlin 41 in arrears. It was set up to be a suitably nail-biting climax for those with skin in the game.

Will Power with Mario Andretti at Laguna Seca

Andretti congratulated Power on breaking his record of IndyCar poles

Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

Power was as keyed up as you’d expect from a racer known for his intensity. But on the Saturday he broke Mario Andretti’s record for most IndyCar pole positions by claiming his 68th, triggering a pleasing moment in the pitlane as the great man came over to offer congratulations. Meanwhile, his title rivals all suffered trials and tribulations – and none of them made the Fast Six shootout. The worst-affected was Newgarden, the 31-year-old – five times a winner this year – spinning up at the Corkscrew. He’d start 25th, on the back row.

So a done deal for Power? Not a bit of it. IndyCar is far too unpredictable.

The No 12 Dallara-Chevy led the early stages, but it soon became clear its handling wasn’t optimised to Power’s liking on Laguna’s ageing track surface shined to a sheen all these years by the California sun. Dixon dug deep and hung in there as Newgarden put in an astonishing performance. Using an aggressive four-stop strategy that freed him from the usual concerns about fuel saving and tyre wear, Newgarden climbed up the order to finish a sublime second. The American had enough of a margin over Power for his final stop to pit and remain ahead, leaving the points leader sweating in his wheel tracks.

Will Power leads at Laguna Seca in the 2022 IndyCar finale

Power took the early lead but couldn’t match Newgarden’s pace

James Black/Penske Entertainment

Fortunately for Power’s state of mind, plus those of his team and wife Liz – anxiously crumpling a near-empty water bottle in the pitlane – Newgarden had little hope of going for the win and ratcheting up the pressure another notch, because the race leader was out of his reach. Hell, Alex Palou was out of everyone’s reach on Sunday.

Somehow the reigning champion hadn’t won a round this year until Laguna. Lining up 11th after a grid penalty for a Honda engine change, the Spaniard found a new level of grip and pace as the laps counted down. He was half a minute up the road by the time the chequer fell – a timely reminder of why the 25-year-old is so highly regarded.

From the archive

But talk about awkward. Palou’s season has been smeared by an ugly contractual dispute that has gone legal, following his shock summer declaration that a Chip Ganassi Racing statement saying he would be retained by the team for 2023 – and included a quote from the driver – was false, and that he would instead be switching to Arrow McLaren. A ruling should be due in the next month, with rumours suggesting McLaren might need to find many millions of dollars to get its man if it falls in Ganassi’s favour. So was this Palou’s final appearance in a Ganassi car? You’d have to think so.

The faces in the Laguna Victory Lane were a picture. Behind the winner, his crew lined up in ‘celebration’, but with expressions fixed into constipated half-smiles. Chip Ganassi himself was just over Palou’s left shoulder, the signature shades and baseball cap ensuring he gave little away, having leaned into the cockpit for a word as Palou pulled up.

So was this his last race in the No 10, Alex was asked. “Things are evolving good, so we’ll see when we can tell,” Palou burbled with an embarrassed smile. “We’ll enjoy the moment and see what happens.” As weird as it gets – until the Oscar Piastri affair matched it!

Alex Palou celebrates winning the 2022 IndyCar Laguna Seca race

Chip Ganassi crew’s victory celebrations weren’t entirely convincing

Travis Hinkle/Penske Entertainment

As for Power, he’d kept his cool to nail the third place he need to confirm himself as champion. There had been no requirement to chase after Newgarden and risk everything in a hard-racing move, whatever the old instincts might have been telling him. His team-mate’s sterling efforts earned him second in the standings, but still 16 points shy of Power.

“I just knew I absolutely had to get the most out of those stints and not lose any more positions,” said Power, soaking in his moment of satisfaction. “Man, I had to drive the thing today. It was on the edge and very loose. Man, what a relief to get that done!

“In the off-season my wife said to me ‘you are going to beat Mario’s record and win the championship’ – she said that to me and it gave me confidence I could actually go and do it. That’s how much confidence I have in her gut feel. She said those words and I just can’t believe they have come true.”

Related article

Power joins Newgarden in a long list of two-time IndyCar champions (in all its forms through the decades) that includes Rodger Ward, Bobby Unser, Tom Sneva, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr, Alex Zanardi, Gil de Ferran… Power, also an Indy 500 winner in 2018, absolutely belongs in such exalted company, especially now he is officially the fastest IndyCar driver over one lap.

As for Dixon, he was never a contender at Laguna – but he’ll be back next year to push for that Foyt record. “Ultimately we didn’t have the pace,” he said of his day. “You win some, you lose some. [The seventh title] is all that matters, man, that and the Indy 500. We’ll be pushing. Maybe it will be next year, maybe it won’t, maybe it’ll be the year after that.”

And what about Herta? The driver who this week has been tipped for an Alpine Formula 1 test and has been publicly named as a person of significant interest to Red Bull by Christian Horner was totally anonymous at Laguna, a track at which he won last year. An 11th place finish and 10th in the standings, after a single 2022 win, is underwhelming for someone so hyped. But it’s all about perceived potential right now, for a 22-year-old who unfathomably isn’t even eligible for a blessed F1 superlicence. Strange times.