Penske’s Power Cleared To Drive; Tests Mid-Ohio

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 30 2011

Will Power, who sustained a nasty wreck at Iowa Speedway on Saturday, has been cleared to drive. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Cleared to drive by INDYCAR’s medical staff following a “mild concussion” suffered Saturday night, Will Power spent Wednesday road-course testing in pursuit of IZOD IndyCar Series nemesis Dario Franchitti.

Power joined Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe for a test on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his first seat time since crashing into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier at Iowa Speedway during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer. Power not only sustained a minor concussion in the accident midway through the race, but also took a severe hit in the points.

Power and Franchitti – the three-time/reigning series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing – began the race tied for first with 271 points. But Power’s 21st place finish and Franchitt’s fifth-place result boosted the Scotsman’s total to 303 points, 20 ahead of Power entering the Honda Indy Toronto on July 10.

Per INDYCAR rules, Power was administered the ImPACT (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) exam by medical personnel as part of his re-evaluation on Tuesday.

“It’s good to be back out there in the Verizon car,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Dallara/Honda. “The car was damaged after the incident in the pits (Saturday) and we just had a problem with the steering and it came around on me. It was a hard hit, but I didn’t actually get knocked out or anything. I just had a headache for the first night and some neck soreness. I needed to get checked out by the INDYCAR officials and it was more precautionary than

Will Power passes test and goes testing.

anything, but that’s good, because you can never be too careful.

“Every driver does a test, called an ImPACT test, at the beginning of every season. It basically tests your reflexes, your memory and so on. Then you have to go back and do that test again if you have an incident like what we had in Iowa. I took the test and the doctors cleared me to drive.”

Power’s race took a wrong turn early-on Saturday night around the 0.875-mile oval in Newton when he made contact with the car of Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing on pit lane during the event’s first pit stop. Power’s car was damaged by the contact and he subsequently spun and hit the wall on Lap 91.

Because race car drivers are susceptible to concussions and other head and neck injuries during crashes, baseline testing is an integral part of INDYCAR’s medical evaluation process. The ImPACT procedure measures a driver’s cognitive abilities under normal, healthy conditions. That information establishes the driver’s baseline testing data.

Before competing in an IndyCar Series event, drivers are required to establish their baseline data by performing a 30-minute, computerized ImPACT test, measuring a range of neurocognitive functions including memory, reaction time, attention span and other cognitive abilities. If a driver suffers a head injury, doctors perform the test again and compare the results to the driver’s baseline, significantly improving the ability to diagnose the severity of an injury and better prescribe treatment.

“I’m glad we got the chance to test at Mid-Ohio to get ready for the road courses coming up,” said Power, alluding to a three-race stretch that will be run on street and natural-terrain circuits. “Now I’m looking forward to going back to Toronto next week and trying to defend our win there.”

Fittingly, Power and Franchitti finished 1-2 on the 1.75-mile Streets of Toronto circuit last summer. Franchitti won the inaugural race in the Canadian city under INDYCAR sanction in July 2009.

Power qualified on-pole for the season-opening stretch of four races run on street/road-courses,  claiming victories at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and on the Streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Franchitti, meanwhile, won the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Following the Honda Indy Toronto, the series will compete in the Edmonton Indy on July 24 at Edmonton City Centre Airport, where Power won in 2009, and on Aug. 7 in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio in Lexington, where Franchitti won last year.

In addition, Dale Coyne Racing’s James Jakes also tested at Mid-Ohio, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. Franchitti and Scott Dixon are scheduled to test at Sebring International Raceway today. Power also will join Pippa Mann, who will compete in three races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, on the 1.056-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval for testing on Tuesday. The series will compete there on Aug. 14.

Scott Dixon advanced 20 positions to finish third in the Iowa Corn Indy 250. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing ace now needs to make up about 50 points – equivalent to a race victory – to get back into the mix for what would be

Scott Dixon making up ground on the points lead.

his third IZOD IndyCar Series championship.

Dixon has nine races remaining, including three consecutive street/road courses on deck during the next five weeks. Saturday’s finish in Newton was his fifth top-10 in a row. Dixon, who notched the 83rd top-five of his open-wheel career, is 73 points behind teammate and leader Dario Franchitti, and trails Team Penske’s Will Power by 53.

“It’s a tough championship; if you get into a bit of a rut and even get mixed-up in the wrong programs, you can lose a lot of points quickly,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Dallara/Honda. “If you have a good weekend it’s 53 points as opposed to somebody maybe making 12, so you can close the gap pretty quickly.”

Dixon referred to 2008, when he forged a 65-point lead over Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves following his victory at Edmonton. Dixon increased the advantage to 78 points two weeks later with a win at Kentucky Speedway. But a 12th-place result at Infineon Raceway and a fifth at Belle Isle in Detroit _ while Castroneves recorded first- and second-place finishes _ cut the margin to 30 points heading into the season-finale. Castroneves charged from 28th to win at Chicagoland Speedway by 0.0033-seconds over Dixon, who secured his second title by 17 points. Dixon won his first IndyCar championship in 2003.

“When you have your bad weekends, if you can sort of extract the best points or the best finishing position, that’s what you need to do,” said Dixon, who has recovered from non-top-10 finishes in three of the first four races via those five consecutive top-10s. “I think that’s what Dario has been very strong at throughout the last few years. Where they maybe haven’t had the best car, they’ve still come up with a hell of a good finish at the end.”

Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., is doing its part to ease the state’s perpetual summertime energy consumption drain. In partnership with Panasonic, Infineon’s management has installed 1,652 solar panels that will cover 41 percent of the circuit’s energy usage.

In another move designed to reduce energy consumption, Panasonic also has provided the raceway with a low-energy LED video board, replacing the current installation on Highway 37. The IndyCar Series will make its annual trip to the wine country of the Sonoma Valley on Aug. 26-28.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 30 2011
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