SONOMA, California – An uphill battle is even steeper for Will Power, but the Team Penske driver will continue fighting for his second Verizon IndyCar Series championship at this weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
The 36-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, enters the race weekend fifth in the standings, 68 points behind teammate and championship leader Josef Newgarden. Power arrived at today’s series open test at Sonoma Raceway limping, after hyperextending his left knee earlier this week when a strong wave took him by surprise while swimming at Half Moon Bay in Northern California.
Despite the noticeable limp, Power remains in positive spirits. The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet said the knee doesn’t pose an issue in the car.
“No problem, didn't feel anything,” Power said following the first session of today’s test. “As long as (the knee) is bent, it's no problem. It's just straightening it is the issue. Good news in the car is you're always bent knee.
“It’s a bruised bone so you can’t really do any more damage, so you’ve just got to fight through the pain if there is any.”
Fight is what Power must do if he wants to overtake Scott Dixon and teammates Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud in the points battle. With double points available in Sunday’s race on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway permanent road course, Power can still win the championship but must have a flawless weekend while those in front of him falter.
If Power scores maximum points with the pole, win and most laps led, Newgarden must finish 13th or worse, Dixon 11th or lower, Castroneves sixth or worse and Pagenaud fourth or lower to pull off the feat.
Considering he’s a five-time pole winner and three-time race winner at Sonoma, no one is counting Power out just yet. The 2014 series champion is taking it a step at a time, realizing Verizon P1 Award qualifying on Saturday may hold the key for him.
“I think the approach will change as the weekend goes along. Understanding where you qualify would be the beginning,” he said. “Obviously, if you qualify behind all your teammates, it becomes a bit of a different situation in the race – doing what you can to make sure one of your teammates wins the championship, unless some strategy plays out that you’re leading.
“But apart from that my aim is to qualify on pole and win the race. That’s the aim. That gives me a shot at winning this championship if circumstances play out.”
Power will also have to do it without the man who called his championship strategy from the pit stand in 2014. Tim Cindric, the Team Penske president, shifted this season to Newgarden’s strategist after serving in the same capacity for Power since mid-season in 2011. Jon “Myron” Bouslog has been Power’s strategist this season.
“Tim, to me, is one of the best guys on pit lane on strategy,” said Power. “I don’t think there is anyone else out there as good as Tim.
“Obviously, it was tough to replace him, but my engineer Dave Faustino and Myron have done a really good job this year. I mean, our strategies have been great. It’s more of just getting used to a guy and the wording someone else uses. I got so used to Tim. I knew exactly what he meant and understood him very well. So as the year has gone on, it’s been the same with Jon. We’re fixing things here and there.”
Power said that the desire to win a championship doesn’t diminish, even after bagging one. He’d love nothing more than to win one for his young son Beau and to achieve a comeback many don’t believe is possible.
"The first (championship), you can’t beat that,” he said. “I think the first one, that’s your first championship, it was huge.
“It was a long time coming for me, so I’ll never forget that one, but it would be amazing to do it here.”
Power finished today’s open test third on the time sheet with a best lap of 1 minute, 17.0550 seconds (111.427 mph). The official race weekend commences Friday, with 45-minute practices at 1 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET. The first practice steams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. NBCSN is providing live coverage of the second practice beginning at 5 p.m.
A third practice is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday (RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Knockout qualifying airs live on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m.
Following a final 30-minute warmup at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.