SONOMA, Calif. – Will Power’s pursuit of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship came to an abrupt end just over one-third of the way through Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Power started the race fourth in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, in his quest to catch teammate and pole sitter Simon Pagenaud for the title. Trailing by 44 points at the drop of the green flag, but with double race points keeping his championship hopes flickering, Power managed to work his way up to second behind Pagenaud following the first round of pit stops.
He held steady behind Pagenaud until Lap 36, when the No. 12 car suddenly lost power in Turn 7. The Aussie limped around the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway road course stuck in first gear until coming to a stop just before the pit entrance. That forced the only full-course caution period of the 85-lap race.
Power’s car was towed to its pit by the Holmatro Safety Team, where the Penske crew diagnosed a failed clutch control unit. By the time the CCU could be recycled, Power was eight laps behind Pagenaud and out of race and championship contention.
“Basically, I shifted, the gears don't engage properly, then it got stuck in gear, then it wouldn't shift and then it went into anti-stall mode at the (Turn 7) hairpin because it got down to a certain rev,” Power explained. “It just wouldn't get out of anti-stall mode and stayed in neutral. It's dangerous, that's a fast section. I was really worried. There was nothing else I could really do.”
As he struggled to get his car back to the pits, Power watched his hopes for a second Verizon IndyCar Series crown literally pass him by.
“Yeah, it's tough, frustrating at that point. You just want it to click into gear and go and it wouldn't. You just watch people roll by. That's it, championship's over.”
Power did return to the track but never recovered. He finished the race in 20th position, just good enough to make sure he retained second in the standings, while Pagenaud went on to claim his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
The 35-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, was understandably disappointed following the race, but knew that the championship was a longshot going in.
“It was obviously disappointing to have that gearbox problem,” he said. “I think Simon was going to be tough to beat as far as the championship goes. Maybe we could have beaten him for the win, but I doubt it if everything just played out as it was.”
Despite finishing second in the championship for the fourth time, Power applauded the effort of Team Penske that resulted in a lockout of the top three championship spots. Helio Castroneves finished third.
“It's a 1-2-3 for the team, which is really good, considering how it finished last year,” he said, referring to when teammate Juan Pablo Montoya lost the championship to Scott Dixon on a tiebreaker. “I think the team is really strong now.”
Power’s season will be one to remember. He missed the first race with an inner-ear infection. He clawed his way back during the second half of the season, scoring wins at the second Belle Isle race, Road America, Toronto and Pocono to close within 20 points of his teammate.
With those results in mind, Power was satisfied with his 10th full season of Indy car competition and 12th season overall.
“I definitely look at it as a real positive,” he said. “The team finished 1-2-3, Chevy won the manufacturer title, I won four races. I won a 500-mile race (Pocono). I won on an oval, on a street course and Road America – two tracks I hadn't won on.
“It was a great season for me, it really was. Obviously coming into this race, it was somewhat of a longshot (to win the championship). What happened to me could have happened to Simon. It's a different story, but that's racing.”
With the off-season ahead, Power is looking forward to the birth of his first child. His wife Liz is expecting in December.
“Ready to meet my son,” he said. “Well, that's not going to be a break. It's going to be interesting to see how the whole sleep pattern thing works. He's going to be on our sleep pattern.”