Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power is about to change his outlook on 2014 as the series heads into a three-race showdown with no fewer than eleven drivers still in contention for the crown.
Power leads the way with three races remaining for the third time in his career, having also led in 2010 and 2012, but, having missed out on both those occasions, is determined not to let the opportunity slip through his fingers again. The Australian currently leads Helio Castroneves by four points, having claimed the overall advantage for the third time this season, but knows that, with a maximum of 54 points available at the forthcoming round at Milwaukee, the lead could change just as it did at Mid-Ohio.
The championship lead has already changed hands four times in 2014 and, despite three drivers being mathematically eliminated from title contention at Mid-Ohio, Power still faces competition from Castroneves, Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Carlos Munoz, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Ryan Briscoe with three rounds to go.
The Penske driver will not only draw on his own personal frustrations, however, as the driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the title in four of the last five seasons. Only Dario Franchitti, in 2011, won the title when leading that far out, and the four points that currently separate Power from Castroneves is the smallest it's been since 2009.
Power has maintained all year that he would not let himself be concerned about the points situation, and insists that his focus is not about to change, despite the increasing tension.
“It's probably time to start thinking about winning,” he said, “At the end of the day, if you win two of the last three races or win all three, we'll win the championship, but it always depends on your situation at the time, where you qualify, how you're running at certain times of the race. It's really how you drive and what chances you may take.
“You've just got to adapt to those situations throughout the weekends that you're competing - that's how you're going to get the best results. It is truly about focusing on one race at a time, almost one lap at a time, one session at a time, trying to get the most out of it.”
The Aussie admits that he learned a lot from missing out on the crown from a similar position in both 2010 and 2012, and hopes he now has the experience to come out on the other side this season.
“You're constantly learning every year,” he pointed out, “I think that's why some of those older drivers are doing so well, just because of the amount of knowledge that they have about understanding how to deal with certain situations and always putting themselves in good position. I feel like this is the first year I've gone through the season, all the tracks we're going to, and there is no weakness there. I definitely feel confident.
“The way the series is now, I'm not sure anyone has an advantage anywhere. It seems to change every year. Sonoma is a track that I really enjoy, and I definitely look forward to racing there. Fontana, last year, was one of the highlights of my whole career - man, I just had so much fun and pretty much enjoyed winning that race more than any race I've ever won, so it's definitely two good tracks with great memories for me.”
While he feels that he has nothing to fear from the circuits that remain on the schedule, the closeness of the points battle does not engender as much confidence in the Power camp.
“I'm not considering the amount of points that are on the table,” he insisted, “Maybe those four points will count in the end, but it's a full season of racing and points, and the guy that scores the most at the end just kind of ebbs and flows as far as who is leading at the time.
“It's definitely a pretty tight year with three races to go, or really four races worth of points to go. In a funny way, it's still kind of early considering how many points are on the table.”
Of the remaining contenders, Hunter-Reay is a three-time Milwaukee winner and has won the last two races at the track, while 2014 Indycar returnee Montoya won the race there in 2000. Power, meanwhile, has top ten finishes in two of his last three starts at the flat oval, while Castroneves' second place finish in 2013 represents his best finish at the track since his first start in 1998. Despite not winning in Milwaukee, however, Power admits to enjoying the venue.
“It's the only flat oval that we race with pretty much no banking, and it creates a situation where the car set-ups really matter,” he explained, “You see a lot of people strong at the beginning and then see them struggle at the end and vice versa, which creates good racing in the end. Sometimes you're off-strategy and you're on new tyres and other people aren't, so it makes it a fun race from that point of view.
“It's just another unique part of the IndyCar Series where you're racing on something different from everything else in the series. I enjoy it – but I've pretty much enjoyed all the ovals this year. It's been a lot of fun.”