Power optimistic for 2022/’23 after last year’s struggles

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Will Power believes he will be fighting for the championship again in 2022 and ’23 after discovering why he temporarily faltered last summer.

Power optimistic for 2022/’23 after last year’s struggles
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Power now has 40 IndyCar wins and 63 poles to his name but added only one to each tally in 2021, having had a difficult middle-third of the season in which not only luck but also his usual pace temporarily deserted him.

Following his victory in August’s race on the Indianapolis road course, he explained his dip in form.

“It was such a weird slump for me because normally when I'm not winning it's not because of lack of pace,” the 2014 champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner told the media. “But there have been times this year where, yeah, it's been a struggle to get the pace, to get the car right… I wouldn't say it's exactly a lack of pace: it was doing mistakes in qualifying, which is very unusual for me. I'd usually really put [a flying lap] together…

“This year I've been on laps that will get me through each round and then I'll make a little mistake or something will go wrong, I'll get traffic. All that is so important to control – and I wasn't.

“Like, last week [at Nashville] when you have three laps to do your lap, and on a street course it can go yellow pretty easy, that's exactly what happened. I was on a lap and I aborted it, and next lap I started which would have got me through, Josef [Newgarden] went into the wall and we went yellow.

“I should know that. I should know that you cannot ever be out of that top six. Every lap you've got to ‘update’ yourself into the top six, and it's just about being on the game, on the ball… It cost me a potential chance to be in the Fast Six.

“I came in here and it's like, ‘Every lap counts’.”

At IMS, he came up just 0.0067sec short of Pato O’Ward’s pole-winning time, and the following race he earned pole on the oval at Gateway.

 

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Five months on, he tells Motorsport.com: “I definitely needed to improve qualifying. We kind of got back on top of that toward the end of the year. But up to that point, I’d say we had put a bit less emphasis on qualifying because we could see that the real key to a championship, as tight as IndyCar is now, is to get a bunch of top threes and top fives on race days and obviously go for the win whenever possible.

“But the thing is, you can’t really give up anything in qualifying because you’ll drop too far down, especially because it was a year where we were struggling to find a good place for the car.”

Power and race engineer Dave Faustino, who since 2007 have been partners every year bar one, worked hard to remedy the situation in that month-long midseason gap last year and again in this offseason, and Power believes they have turned up some good insights which will bring about tangible improvements this year.

“We have a lot of information to look at, and when you do that you find plenty of things to improve upon – stuff you’re looking for and sometimes extra stuff too,” says Power. “We’ve got plenty of good data, not only from what we learned but also because Josef was so fast in the middle part of the year while doing something different with the car. I mean, watching how he was generating speed, Dave and I got suckered into trying things that didn’t particularly suit us.”

Power is experienced and wise enough to put a positive spin on that particular issue, however.

“You do learn so much more when things are going against you,” he says. “You dive deeper and deeper into the data, discover the issues, come up with a few different ways you might solve the problem, and then analyze which will be best to get the most speed from the car. And that includes my driving, too. If I need to change this, this and this in my driving to best suit the car’s handling when it’s fastest and at its optimum, then that’s what I’ll do.

“Best example of that was on the Indy road course. We struggled at the GP in May, but came back in August and were less than a hundredth of a second off pole and took the win. Between the two races we had sort of changed setup philosophy and made little modifications to several areas and that was enough to have us fighting for pole again.”

 

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

With qualifying mojo temporarily absent, and the #12 car’s traditional bad luck peppering the season, little wonder that Power could salvage only ninth in the points standings – by far his worst end-of-season result since he became a full-time Penske driver in 2010.

“Yeah, some of the usual,” he sighs. “Obviously we let the win slip away at Detroit with that shutdown, and let a couple of podiums go, too. Laguna Seca, for example. We had a spark plug go wrong – what were the chances of that? We were second and could have at least taken the fight to Colton [Herta] for the win. Long Beach, I think we could have been fine if we’d started up front, but a car crashed in front of me in qualifying. Indy 500 we were terrible in qualifying, looking good in the race, and then we had that brake issue on pitlane. Can’t be having those kind of issues in a double-points race…”

Power is certain that 2021 was just a blip, and he’s looking forward to 2022 and ’23, albeit for different reasons.

“Yeah, I’m optimistic about this season because whenever we’ve had issues the year before at a particular kind of track, Dave and I have been good at homing in on it, figuring it out and coming back harder the year after. Also, I have a lot of confidence in my crew – man, they’re quick and really, really solid and reliable. Best I’ve had.

“And then I reckon 2023 is looking good too, because it’s going to be a huge change with the new engine and hybrid units – different kind of power delivery, weight distribution shifts, so major setup changes… Because again, I think that’s when we’ve traditionally looked strong – adapting to new regs or a significant alteration to the cars.

“And anyway, I think it will suit all the experienced drivers because we’ve been through big car changes before; we sort of know what we’re trying to achieve with a car, what we’re looking for. If you’ve had several years in fast cars, you have a good idea about what will work and what a strong setup feels like.”

That said, there are a lot of talented drivers in the field who now have at least two or three years of racing IndyCars with strong setups because there are so many strong teams…

“Yeah, this is it,” he agrees, “it’s not just a driver and an engineer that has to improve year to year; it’s the whole team, the whole program. You know, it’s not like we can just stand still and assume that we’re going to be the best.

“The competition is so tough. Ganassi is always in the championship fight, we can all see McLaren getting stronger and stronger, Andretti have very strong drivers, Rahal are now going to have three strong drivers full time.

“There’s so much talent among the drivers and the engineers, crews and so on – and everyone that changes teams in the winter takes a bunch of knowledge with them, so we all end up having very similar stuff. So like Tim [Cindric, Team Penske president] always says, it’s all about execution on the day – learning a lot in practice sessions, and then using that knowledge to get the job done in qualifying and then the race.

“I mean, it’s always been like that, but now it’s multiplied because if you have a slip up, there’s so many guys who’ll beat you.”

He pauses before adding: “Isn’t it funny though that we’ve had basically the same car for years and we’re still finding new stuff? It’s ridiculous! It’s not like the regulations have opened up. It’s just that all the teams are getting down to the tiniest details because they have to because the field’s so stacked. Like 20 or 21 potential winners out of 25 cars. It’s great but, man, it’s tough.”

While his current contract with Penske expires at the end of 2023, Power sees no reason why that should signal his retirement, even though he’ll be 42.

“Nah. As long as I’m still as quick as I ever was and I’m still learning, I want to keep doing this. With horsepower jumping up next year, I think the cars will be a lot of fun to drive, more demanding, and there will be some really cool technical stuff for us to figure out. The next few years could be great.”

 

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

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