Power looking forward to oval deciders
19 September 2011
Will Power's 2011 season has been such a success - 11 top five finishes including nine podiums - that coming merely second behind Scott Dixon could almost feel like a disappointment, but that wasn't the case at Motegi where he was the driver with the biggest smile on his face after taking the lead of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship with two races remaining.
"We tried everything we possibly could to get Dixon but he was very aggressive and he really deserved the win," said Power after the last race to be run at Motegi by the series, insisting that he couldn't have asked for more than second place this week.
For his part, Dixon agreed that he had felt comfortable even at the final restart and secure in the knowledge that he had the best car out there. "At that point there were no concerns. We had a pretty good buffer to Will," he said. "We definitely were at the point that we knew as long as we didn't run out of fuel or have a mechanical that we were going to win the race."
The podium position puts Power 11pts ahead of Dario Franchitti going into the championship, and Power needed to make the most of this last road course of the season. Power's had the edge over everyone on road courses all season, and unsurprisingly clinched the trophy for the road course component of 2011 after Motegi.
"It's an honour to win the Mario Andretti Road Course award again," he said. "I have such respect for Mario and all he's accomplished. Now, we need to keep going and finish the season strong on the ovals."
But anyone thinking that the newly re-crowned Master of the Roads is unhappy that the final two races of the year will be on ovals can think again. Surprisingly, he's a big fan of speedways.
"Ovals, that's what I enjoy the most racing, mile-and-a-half racing, Chicagoland last week, Texas this year - even Kentucky last year we were really strong, just didn't end up with the result. Pretty focused on that this year," he said.
This year, Kentucky Speedway on October 2 is the penultimate race of the season, with the season concluding at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks later. It's wide open who will come out on top in the battle between himself and Franchitti, and Power is doing his best to not worry about it.
"We had the mindset going into the weekend - we weren't really thinking about points," he insisted. "We were just thinking about doing a good job. The things you can't control, it's not worth even worrying about. Just really making sure we execute on the things we could control."
Power's championship prospects were helped when Dario Franchitti made a costly mistake midway through the race that put him at the back of the field, while successful pit stops saw Marco Andretti pop up into third place ahead of Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia in the latter stages, all of whom contributed in keeping Dario's fightback bottled up in eighth place by the chequered flag.
"Marco - pleasant surprise to see him up there on the last restart," said Power understandably as a result. "Always have good battles with him. His granddad [Mario] was the ultimate driver."
And Marco Andretti was certainly delighted to have finished on the podium for only the second time this year, and on a road course which is not normally thought of as his strength.
"We're definitely happy. Actually, I was surprised as well. We made gains," he said. "We didn't roll off the truck like this ... We just went in the right direction. We found the direction and we kept hammering at it and made gains every session."
At the end, though, he certainly didn't have anything like enough to challenge Dixon and Power for the race win. "I was just hoping that Will and Dixon would take each other out!" he joked at the post-race press conference.
"I was hoping that Dixon would just take himself out ..." responded Power with a laugh.
Both Will and Marco said it was sad that this first, very successful run on the Motegi road course was the last time they would ever get to run here. "It's a shame," said Andretti. "Will and I were talking about this is a proper road course. The fans are what make our event. It's a shame that we're leaving."
Race winner Scott Dixon agreed with them both: "I hope at some point in the near future we can come back. The fans here are amazing. I hope we put on a good show today."
The regret at this being the last event here is despite the hot and humid conditions that made the weekend very hard work, physically.
"Good thing Will and I went for a run before the weekend together," said Marco. "Ryan Hunter-Reay and myself and the Penske guys, we went for a run to get acclimated to the weather. As drivers, part of our job is to show up fit enough to where we can go ten-tenths the whole time. Yeah, I feel good."
And of course there was also the small matter of the earthquakes that were still shaking the region periodically, including a significant aftershock on Friday.
"Yeah, I felt it," said Power. "It's funny, because in the last month that's about the third earthquake I felt. I felt one at home in North Carolina, I felt one in Baltimore, I felt one here - so I'm getting accustomed to it. It's actually fun."
"It's my second - I was in my office in Pennsylvania the other day and my chair kind of rolled, so I felt one there," added Andretti. "My Japanese friends act like it's no big deal over here, it happens all the time. Fortunately it wasn't a big one."
At the risk of over-stretching a literary metaphor, Motegi also sent a sizeable tremor through the IZOD IndyCar Championship by putting Power into the lead of the points standings - albeit by just 11pts. In a series where the winner can take 50pts for a race, having such a slender advantage might also appear to be "no big deal", but - as Power points out - being in front is still a genuine strategic as well as psychological edge at this point of the season.
"I just need to keep finishing in front of the #10 car the rest of the way and we'll be fine," he pointed out. "We'll keep chipping away like we have been."
And keeping quiet when it comes to all this championship talk is Scott Dixon, who is some 59pts back from Will Power and 48pts from Dario Franchitti, but still poised to pounce should the frontrunners do anything silly and wipe each other out in one or other of the remaining races.
Anything could still happen: not only is the fat lady not out there singing, she's not even selected her gown for the evening concert yet.