While it might have been a disappointing day for two thirds of the Penske operation, there was no mistaking the big smile of relief on Will Power's face as he collected the Mario Andretti Trophy for winning the ten-race road course part of the 2011 IndyCar championship for a second straight year.
"It's an honour to win the Mario Andretti Road Course award again, I have such respect for Mario and all he's accomplished," said Power, who was happy enough with second today. "We tried everything we possibly could to get Dixon, but he was very aggressive and he really deserved the win."
Despite the obvious frustration of not being a match for Dixon at Motegi, Power was still streets ahead of the rest of the field for most of the afternoon and he finished almost 5s ahead of Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia (who had all made up ground in the pit stops) despite only two laps of green flag running at the end.
Will had badly needed to come out of the final road race of the season with this points lead over Franchitti (who theoretically has a slight edge in the remaining oval races) if he is to have a strong chance of adding the overall drivers' title to the Mario Andretti Road Course award.
"It was a good day for us points-wise in the championship, but I'm really not worried about points right now," said Power."I just need to keep finishing in front of the #10 car the rest of the way and we'll be fine. We'll keep chipping away like we have been."
Franchitti - who ended up finishing in eighth position after running damage control, and benefiting from the incidents at the final restart and the penalty that was applied post-race to Castroneves - was remaining philosophical about his own chances.
"We still have it all to play for, but I keep making it more difficult ... That was a mistake today. Shouldn't have made it," he admitted. "If you win or if you lose, you always look at the championship as a whole. Today; Loudon; Texas; Indy; and on and on. You always look at these things, but Will can do the same with his races."
The poor qualifying performance and the rash move that cost him a strong showing at Motegi may be worrying signs that the reigning champion is feeling the pressure of the title fight, but he'll now have two weeks to regroup and face the last two races of the season. He'll be hoping that the move to ovals at Kentucky and Las Vegas will hand the momentum back to the #10 and that he'll emerge victorious.
Right now, the championship is genuinely too close to call.
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