Will Power says IndyCar’s new superspeedway package reminds him of footage he’s watched of ’80s Indy 500s that require “a lot of driver involvement” but admits he is still heading into Sunday's race with a lot of unknowns.
The Team Penske-Chevrolet driver is the only driver to have reached the Fast Nine shootout every year since its inception in 2010, and will start this year’s race from the outside of the front row on the 3x3 grid.
He said: “The cars slide around which is fantastic. I’ve been watching some of the old Indy 500s – like when Rick Mears won in 1984 – on ESPN Classic, and those guys were wheeling those cars. They were lifting [off the throttle] a lot. If there’s a lot of driver involvement, that’s a good formula.
“This car has a lot of mid-off [corner] understeer so you try to fix it by getting the front fixed but then it’s loose on turn-in, so if you can start to fix the loose in, you start to have a better car.
“It’s been hard to get the balance to be honest, and everyone I’ve spoken to is in the same boat. It’s very tough to get this car in the window, simply because it’s new. We don’t know the aero data. When we come back next year we’ll see people will be better – the typical evolution of a new car.”
Describing the car’s behavior through a roughly 30-lap fuel-load stint, Power said: “The car goes through a whole phase. There’s too much push and then you adjust, the front works pretty good for a couple of laps, and then you get loose in, so you adjust for that. Then when the fuel comes down, the tires come back a little bit and you start to be able to go faster.”
Asked whether the adjustments involve just the cockpit tools such as the weight-jacker, or whether he could adjust his lines through a corner to compensate for the car pushing or getting loose, he replied: “It’s the tools and the lines. It’s the first time I’ve seen people running up high – there’s a lot of grip there. I saw Helio, [Ryan] Hunter-Reay, [Sebastien] Bourdais way off the white line. There’s a lot of different lines out there.
“It will be a race of learning so whoever picks all that up the quickest is gonna be in good shape.”
Power, who finished second here three years ago, 0.1046sec behind teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, said: “I feel like we have our best shot since 2015, when we had a great aerokit. When they blocked those bumpers off for 2016, it affected our [Chevrolet’s] aerokit more than Honda’s, and Honda then had an aero advantage. This year I feel like we have a very good car and we’re in a very good position for the race.”
Given the difficulty that every driver has encountered in practice when making passes while running four- or five-deep in a convoy, Power observed: “If you’re not in the top three in the last stint – maybe even in the top two – then you’re not going to win from there.”
Regarding the slipstreaming battles seen at IMS in recent years, Rick De Bruhl of ESPN/ABC asked the 2014 IndyCar champion if he would want to be first or second going into the last lap. Power replied: “I’m getting the feeling that maybe the leader could get away for the first time in a long time… but I don’t know, the slingshot with this car is huge. You will learn through the stints, if you’re running at the front, OK, you’ve got to be here on this lap.”
Running in tandem with teammate Josef Newgarden on Monday, the pair were seen taking it in turns to practice when to pull out of the other’s draft coming out of Turn 4 in order to nose ahead by the famous yard of bricks that marks the start/finish line at IMS.
“Yeah, yeah, I was looking to see what kind of run you’ve got to get,” said Power, “and that depends on how fast that car is. Hmmm… I think maybe you’re better off leading as much as you can.”