IndyCar Notes: Power Still Charging

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 24 2010

Will Power is on a major roll in the IZOD IndyCar Series. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

With his victory in the Honda Indy Toronto last Sunday, Will Power continued a methodical march toward what looms as his first IZOD IndyCar Series driver’s championship.

Power, of Team Penske, finished 1.2-seconds ahead of reigning series champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing on the 1.75-mile Streets of Toronto circuit. And Power continued his P1 pace Friday during practice for the Honda Indy Edmonton, topping the time sheet with a hot lap of 1 minute, 1.6689-seconds (115.176 mph) after a two-hour session.

Power, defending event champion and driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda, led a practice sweep for Team Penske on the 1.973-mile, 14-turn City Centre Airport circuit. Ryan Briscoe was two-tenths of a second off Power’s pace and Helio Castroneves was third-fastest at 1:02.0152. Overall, the top 11 cars were separated by less than a second.

“It will be the toughest qualifying session of the year,” said Power, alluding to Saturday afternoon’s PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying (Knockout session and Firestone Fast Six).

“It’s great to see the Verizon car on top in practice, but I’m not quite happy with it,” said Power, who leads Franchitti by 42 points after 10 of 17 events. “The Penske team is very strong again here and with how competitive the field is now we have to work extra hard. We’re feeding off each other and see if we can be 1-2-3 again (Saturday).”

Power recorded his fourth victory of the season in Toronto to remain the only competitor with more than one win. Power claimed his first series victory last summer in Edmonton in a sensational drive, winning from pole position while leading 90 of 95 laps.

For the second time this season Power now is poised to become the fourth driver in series history to win three races in a row – a very short list featuring Scott Dixon (2007), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Kenny Brack (1998). Power won at Sao Paulo, Brazil, and St. Petersburg, Fla., to kick off the season and more recently has gone back-to-back at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Toronto.

“I believe if you’re put in that position, you should be winning,” said Power, who grabbed the lead for good on the 1.75-mile, 11-turn street course at Exhibition Place on Lap 72 of 85. “You’re given the equipment to win. I’ve been given a full-time ride in one of the best teams in the series. To repay them, you’ve got to win.

“I look at some of the races where we missed out, where I feel we were strong enough. We could have won more and so could other people. We’ll always be challenging for wins every weekend and we should be. It’s as simple as that.”

Team Penske has won the pole in Edmonton each of the past two seasons – with Briscoe in 2008 and Power in ’09. In four career races in Edmonton, Power has one win, two poles and led 118 laps.

Sunday’s race in Canada is the third of a five-event stretch contested on either natural terrain or street courses. City Centre Airport and the natural-terrain Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 8) in Lexington, Ohio, will be followed by a visit to the rolling hills of Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (Aug. 22).

Four oval events will close out the schedule, a segment where Franchitti has an advantage. Over the past season and-a-half, Franchitti has an average finish of 5.3 on the 14 ovals (three victories; only two finishes out of the top-10). In Toronto, seven different teams were represented in the top 10, adding to the list of championship scenario variables.

“Man, I know it’s going to be a tough championship to win,” said Power, a 29-year-old native of Australia. “I was aware coming into the season that I had lack of experience on mile-and-a-half ovals. I think the only place it really showed was Kansas, where I was very cautious and just finished the race (12th). Everywhere else, I felt like I could have challenged for the win. I want to win an oval race before the year is out. I’ve been knocking on the door, so I think that may come.”

Meanwhile, three drivers other than Franchitti lost ground to Power at Toronto. Two-time series champion Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing (40 points behind entering the race), and Penske teammates Briscoe (minus-47) and Castroneves (minus-54) exited prematurely because of separate accidents.

A two-time series champion, Franchitti promised to push Power for every position. “We’re trying to beat him,” said Franchitti, fourth-fastest in practice in the No. 10 Dallara/Honda. “He’s done a helluva job. We’ve got to keep making progress, because if you stand still you’re going to get passed by four or five different cars just the next week.”

Team Penske saw its record streak of eight consecutive pole positions snapped in Toronto by Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The run included poles won by all three Penske drivers – Power (series-leading five), Briscoe (two) and Castroneves (one). Eight in a row tied the all-time open-wheel racing record for consecutive poles.

Sunday’s 95-lap race will be telecast live in High Definition at 5 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS and also air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 212.

Fire scares Kanaan straight: Former series champion Tony Kanaan exited last summer’s Edmonton event in dramatic fashion, courtesy of a pit fire on Lap 34 of the scheduled 95-lapper.

The fuel hose spewed ethanol onto Kanaan’s race-hot No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda as it pulled away from the pit stall, and a spark ignited the fuel into flames that briefly engulfed the car. Kanaan, of Andretti Autosport, termed it “one of the scariest moments of my career.”

Pit crewmen and safety workers quickly doused car and driver with water, minimizing damage and preventing potential serious burns.

“I said that I wanted to have a different kind of a shower this year,” Kanaan joked. “I want to have a champagne shower.

“We always look back on incidents like that to find out what really happened. I’ve been around a long time and between the crashes and some accidents that have happened, you always go, ‘Wow, that was close.’ Thank God our equipment is very safe, the driver’s suit and the helmet did its job and I just burnt a tiny bit of my hand and my face.”

Honda Performance Development has been testing a first gear lockout system, in which sensors on the fueling hose and car will disengage the gears until there is appropriate separation between the two. It is expected to be introduced this season.

Kanaan, who snapped a victory drought dating to mid-season 2008 at Iowa Speedway in June, scored a fourth-place finish in the Honda Indy Toronto last Sunday. The Brazilian enters the Honda Indy Edmonton seventh in the point standings.

Conway hot-laps on simulator: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Mike Conway, recovering in the United Kingdom from leg and back injuries suffered in a crash during the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, began driving a racing simulator as part of his workout regimen last week.

“It‘s great to be back in the cockpit after the accident seven weeks ago,” said Conway, who has had the cast removed from his left leg. “It’s the first time I put weight on (the foot) so I was surprised how well I could hit the brakes. I am pleased to say that I have feeling in my foot and it felt good.”

Meanwhile, Tomas Scheckter, who competed in the Honda Indy Toronto for DRR last weekend, will drive the No. 24 MonaVie Dallara/Honda in the Honda Indy Edmonton. Scheckter will team with Justin Wilson, who earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award in Toronto in the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car.

Matos gets coached-up: Brazilian Raphael Matos received some unsolicited coaching advice from longtime friend and former open-wheel champion David Empringham during last weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto. Matos and Empringham are former Atlantic Series competitors.

“He is the kind of guy who pushes me very hard and he sees the specific areas I am lacking,” said Matos, driver of the No. 2 Hewlett-Packard De Ferran Dragon Racing Dallara/Honda. “He made me focus on one problem at a time. You cannot fix all the problems in the car at once. You have to fix the main issue and go from there. That really helped me focus on what was working and better communicate what I was feeling with the engineers.”

Matos, who started eighth and finished 18th at Edmonton last summer, swept the Atlantic Series doubleheader at Edmonton City Centre Airport in 2007.

Xtrac geared for long haul: Xtrac, a global leader in motorsports transmissions, will log its landmark two-millionth mile run in IndyCar races, practices and tests this weekend while preparing specifications for a lightweight transmission to be used in the Dallara Future Car chassis beginning in 2012.

The United Kingdom and U.S.-based gearbox manufacturer has been an exclusive supplier to the series for the past 10 years.

“We now look forward to submitting our proposals for a new lightweight transmission and congratulate Dallara for winning the contract to supply the new chassis,” said Peter Digby, Xtrac president and managing director. “We have already indicated to the series’ promoters that we are willing to relocate to the new Speedway (Ind.) redevelopment area, which is very close to our existing facility in Indianapolis where we’ve been based since 2003.”

As a major international customer, the IndyCar Series represents a significant contract for Xtrac, one that successfully has been renewed six times since 2000 and which extends to the end of 2011.

Targeted minimum weight of Dallara’s IndyCar Safety Cell is 1,380 pounds, almost 200 pounds lighter than the current car. “This will require a significant weight saving for the transmission without compromising reliability and our established low-running costs,” Digby said. “This will be an interesting and exciting challenge for our technical capabilities, and we’ll draw heavily on our experience in other premier motorsport series.

“It’s serious business, but it’s also tremendous fun and deeply satisfying designing a gearbox able to handle the prodigious power of a 650 horsepower race car capable of reaching speeds in excess of 230 mph.”

Danica podiums in poll: Andretti Autosport’s Danica Patrick is among the three top female sports stars in the nation, according to an annual Harris Interactive poll. Tennis siblings Venus and Serena Williams are Nos. 1 and 2. Patrick also was selected as one of 30 women who are “Utterly Inspiring Role Models” by Forbes.com. Included on that list are Melinda Gates, Michele Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Technically speaking: Honda’s overtake assist option _ commonly referred to as push-to-pass _ was introduced to the series in August 2009 and will make its debut at Edmonton City Centre Airport during the Honda Indy Edmonton. The system employed by Honda Performance Development is an ECU software alteration. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. This weekend, each driver will have 20 uses of 18 seconds duration each, with a 10-second recharge period…. Each car has been assigned six sets (24 tires) of Firestone Firehawk primary tires and three sets (12 tires) of the alternate (red-sidewall) tires. Firestone Racing has developed an all-new primary tire specification for Edmonton this year, while the alternate previously was used at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. The rain tire is the softer rain, and is the only rain tire in use for the 2010 season. … Edmonton is grouped in the road course/short oval category of aero packages for the IndyCar Series.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 24 2010