Will Power, who missed raceday in the season-opening round at St. Petersburg due to illness, said he was “happy with third place” in his first IndyCar race since last season’s finale, seven months ago.
Three weeks ago, the 2014 IndyCar champion had suffered an inner-ear infection which gave concussion-like symptoms and then also had a stomach bug, and thus sat out the St. Pete race after setting pole position. Since then, he has completed a day’s testing at Barber Motorsport Park and rose from ninth on the grid to finish third in Phoenix.
“I was really nervous going into the race. You know – ‘Can I do this?’,” Power admitted afterward. “I was watching the laps count down but with 100 laps to go, I was like, ‘I got this and I can finish this race.’
"Man, the G-forces were unbelievable. We were wide open at the end there when the track cooled down. So much load! You gotta be a body builder to drive these things.”
Power paid tribute to his pit crew who vaulted him from ninth to fourth on the first pit stop. Although Power lost out to an inspired Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart, the #12 crew would again elevate him to second for most of the race.
He had a slightly slower final stop, when he slid into one of his fresh tires in his pitbox, which allowed Pagenaud to jump him for runner-up position, but was otherwise content with his race.
"My guys in the pits were awesome… just mega. Unfortunately as I came into the pit box there, I knocked the tire, so we had a slower stop. All my fault.
“But yeah, very happy to finish the race in third."
Tire preservation was main concern
Power admitted that the difficulty in passing at Phoenix meant he was lagging back from whoever was in front of him at any given time, trying not to waste the tires in aero wash.
“I was very nice on my tires,” he said. “I knew we couldn’t pass, so why get so close? The more you punish [the tires], the more chance you’re going to have of a big vibration.
“It’s not the tires that are the problem; it’s the amount of downforce we had here. That’s why we couldn’t pass and why some of the tires had vibrations.”
Power admitted that getting a good haul of points in his first race of the year, and being careful with a fellow-Penske driver, had persuaded him to not try passing Pagenaud in the final stint.
“I could see Simon was struggling out of Turns 3 and 4,” he said. “I could definitely get around, but I wasn’t going to unless it was a sure thing.
There was no way I was going to take a risk with my teammate. It’s just not worth it.
“I just wanted to finish the race.”