EDMONTON, Alberta – For those who wonder what makes Will Power so good need only look at his performance in Sunday’s Edmonton Indy.
“We kept pushing away,” Power said. “That was a great drive. It was a good strategy with lots of passing. That was definitely an enjoyable drive except I couldn’t catch those guys at the end. Man, I was cruising. It’s shaping up to be a pretty tight championship.
“If we started 17th and had a race with no yellows and ended up third, we’d take that for sure. Man, good day. No yellows – that’s real racing, isn’t it?
While Power excelled by running the race without a caution period, Ryan Hunter-Reay was begging for one. He won the pole on Saturday but knew going in that he would start 11th after taking the 10-grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change when Andretti Autosport swapped out the Chevrolet engine. While Power was able to make up 14 places from start to finish Power could only advance four positions.
“I needed a lot of yellows today,” Hunter-Reay said. “I needed yellows to stack everything up and then I could have made up positions on restarts. I had a really good start – I just needed a few more of those.
“That was a physical race with qualifying laps the whole time after the first stint. We just needed yellows. To take an engine penalty today and the yellow flags not go our way things didn’t go our way today. We finished seventh and whenever your championship contenders finish on the podium and we’re seventh it’s not too satisfying but we still have four races to go.
“This is going to be a battle to the end and we need to come out and be strong the next race at Mid-Ohio. This is going to be a good championship fight.”
Hunter-Reay could have finished eighth had he not come out ahead in a fierce battle for position with Power’s teammate Ryan Briscoe late in the race. By finishing ahead of Hunter-Reay it would have helped Power and Castroneves cut even further on Hunter-Reay’s lead. But Hunter-Reay was determined to get ahead of Briscoe and that battle may be important in the final outcome of the championship.
“Ryan races hard; I knew he wasn’t going to make it easy for me,” Hunter-Reay said. “I wouldn’t make it easy for anybody else either. Every point is valuable. Just making a pass for seventh was hard but seventh place isn’t what we were looking for.
“Will was flying. The Penske cars seemed to be on it today.”
Power certainly was “on it” with his drive from deep in the field to a third-place finish. And he certainly made a “Power-ful Statement” with Sunday’s effort.
“Considering it was all green; there's no such thing as a lucky yellow or restart, gaining on restarts,” Power said. “Those are the sort of days you love. We don't get them very often in IndyCar to be full green on tracks that you can pass. I’m very happy. I would have been much more happy if I could have at least caught up to these guys and had a battle. But they were running fast. I could see them battling. I was hoping they would come together. But great day anyway.”
Power drove fearlessly and flawlessly and that was the right combination. His talent was on display in a much bigger way than if he had started up front and won the race.
“When it is so tightly packed, I'm looking for driver details I've never looked for in my life, just like minute little bits of time to find on someone, because the field is so compressed,” Power said “To me it's the most competitive field I've ever raced in. I've never had to search so hard for speed in my life.
“When I say 'easy,' I would say more forgiving because it's a good tire, a lot of downforce; you have a higher (indiscernible) angle. When you lose it, easier to fall off track in the old car. That doesn't mean it's easier to be fast. In fact, it's harder when you have almost the whole field covered by a second. One-tenth of a second moves you a lot.”
It was quite a day for Team Penske as Castroneves led the final 22 laps to claim his second win of the season and the 27th IndyCar victory of his career. In the process, that makes him a legitimate threat for the title and Power fully expects he will be fighting to the finish against his teammate for the championship in the final race of the season at Fontana, California.
“I would expect that to be the case going into the last race,” Power said. “I think he's going to be there right at the end. What do you do? You just race him hard. I'm sure Penske has been in that position before, probably not for a long time, though.
“It's basically competition on the track. There are no team orders in this team. You know, I am sure that will be the case. I suspect there will be three or four drivers able to win in the last race.”
Power believes that in the past few seasons, Castroneves has probably been overlooked as a championship contender. But with four races to go, Power is not only locked in a battle with Hunter-Reay but also with his Team Penske teammate.
“Considering the year he had last year, I think people probably did,” Power said of Castroneves. “He was a bit erratic. He had a few incidents. He had an all-around bad year. If you go back a couple years, you understand he's always a guy in contention for a championship. To me it's not a surprise. He's definitely worked on driving details, adopted some of what I do, and I take some of what he does. So collectively we're faster.
“What I was impressed with this year, he actually switched to be a left-foot braker, which might have helped him actually. That's pretty impressive because that's hard to do.”
So, imagine the mind-games between these two? They can start getting into each other’s head back at the Team Penske shop in Mooresville, North Carolina without waiting to get to the race track.
Bring it on, Castroneves said.
“To be honest, that's a good problem to have, especially for the team, having two teammates battling for the championship, which is the case right now,” Castroneves said. “But I had this situation before with Sam (Hornish), with Gil (de Ferran). I've been in this situation before with my own teammates battling for the championship. Maybe with Will, might be his first time, but I've been in this position. I don't see a problem at all. I actually want it, because that means I know what he's got. Sometimes I know what I need to do to beat your enemy, let's put it this way.
“I hope it will really tough. Certainly Will is an incredible talent. We all seen that. And Ryan in a fantastic momentum right now, Hunter-Reay. In the end of the day, it's all about being there. Right now I'm still playing cool, man. I just want to make sure we do what we're doing.”
While Castroneves hopes to play it cool, Power will drive with fire.
And Sunday at Edmonton, Power was blazing.