Power Hopes That Sonoma Is Win Country

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 23 2013

Will Power will be hoping to end a season-long drought in California. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Will Power says his winless IZOD IndyCar Series season is the product of a number of factors that have relegated him to wing-man for Team Penske teammate/point-leader Helio Castroneves.

Power sits 11th in the standings and 148 points behind Castroneves heading into Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in California’s wine country, where he has qualified on-pole for the last three events and posted victories in 2010 and 2011 before a runnerup result last summer.

“Especially (with) the year we’ve had, I can’t wait to get back there,” Power said during a national teleconference earlier this week. “It’s a track I’ve had a lot of success on. Although the competition has definitely heated up this year, we still expect to be running right at the front.

“We have just got to try and win each race and put ourselves in a really good position. If I’m in a position to help Helio out, of course, it’s all about team. I’d love to see Roger (Penske) win a championship, and Helio. I would most definitely help him out.”

The series’ three-time defending road-course champion, Power may finally be hitting his stride. Power posted a fourth-place finish in the series’ most recent event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 4. Still, the Australian’s last win was on the Streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the spring of 2012.

“Well, the competition is definitely tougher, for sure,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet. “There are some things that were homologated at the end of last year, which gave us a little bit of an advantage and every other Chevy team. The (Dallara) car itself, you’re really boxed into a corner as far as setup. There’s not much

Helio Castroneves has been Penske's top driver this year. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

adjustment on this car that you can do because of the way it was designed with this rearward weight distribution. So you’re stuck, and you can’t set it up to suit yourself. You have to drive it as it is. I think that itself closes the field up.

“Then a few other reasons. Just had some bad incidents happen such as getting run over on a yellow, getting hit in the pits, engine failure at Brazil. And then a few other things to go along with it.”

In the interim, the series has produced nine different winners in 14 races. Of the five races remaining, the next four are on either natural-terrain (Sonoma) or street layouts (Baltimore, doubleheader at Reliant Park in Houston) before the season-finale on Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile superspeedway.

“I think the next two, for sure, are good tracks for me. Always quick there,” said Power, referring to Sonoma and the Streets of Baltimore on Sept. 1. “Then you’ve got Houston (Oct. 5-6), as well, and even Fontana (Oct. 19). Obviously, I haven’t won on an oval for a long time. Sonoma is definitely a good chance for us. But there have been nine different winners this year so it’s really hard to predict how fast you’re going to be and who is going to be in the front and who you’re going to be challenging.

“We found something for sure at the last test at Sebring, which very much suited me. We did get to work there, so I just wonder if it’s going to be possible on these lower-grip circuits like Sonoma and Baltimore. We saw how dominant Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti) was at Toronto and they were able to get their car to work very well there. I also think Honda has made a bit of a gain, definitely, but then Chevy has also made a gain recently, too. I think it’s obviously changing, but I’m hoping that at Sonoma we get our pace.

“I have a very similar style to Dixon, where Dario and Helio, for sure, like a more stable rear end and a bit of understeer. It’s kind of weird, this car. I think you can get it to work for you, but yeah, Toronto in particular, the car has just a lot of understeer and I’m not sure if that’s the car or the (Firestone Firehawk) tire. The tire might change a bit, too.”

Ironically, Power has posted his best results this season on ovals. Power’s average finish on road-courses in 2013 in 14.0; his average finishing position on ovals is 10.0. Power’s top finish of the season is a third-place at The Milwaukee Mile oval in June. Overall, Power has earned two poles en route to an average starting position of 4.6, second among all drivers in 2013. He also has led 10 of 14 races, tops among all series competitors _ including his championship-leading teammate.

Castroneves will begin this weekend with a 31-point lead in the title chase over Dixon, a two-time series champion. Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Dallara/Chevrolet, has led the points for the last nine consecutive races and 11 events overall this season in pursuit of his first series title. Castroneves has completed all 1,843 laps and posted top-10 results in 13 of 14 races, including the last 10 in a row dating to the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

“Obviously, the series is very tight right now, but I’m very motivated and determined to have another good weekend because I thought we had a good weekend at Mid-Ohio,” Power said. “It would be really nice to get a win before the end of the year. As far as Helio goes, he’s in a very good spot to win the championship, and as a team, we’ll be doing everything possible to make that happen.”

Practice is scheduled for Friday on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma layout, with qualifying set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (EDT). NBC Sports Network will air its tape-delayed broadcast at 9 p.m. Sunday’s race will be televised live at 4 p.m. (EDT) by NBC Sports Network and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smart phones and tablets.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon topped the time sheet as all 25 cars entered in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma participated in five hours of an IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test on Wednesday.

Dario Franchitti tested well at Sonoma. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

Franchitti, who has five podium finishes (including the 2009 victory) in seven starts at Sonoma, posted the fastest lap of the day of 1 minute, 18.2945-seconds in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. That lap time was only one second off the track record set during 2012 qualifications by pole-sitter Will Power of Team Penske.

Dixon was second-fast (1:18.3694) and reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport was third on the sheet (1:18.4707) in the No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevrolet. Power (1:18.5042) was fourth, while point-leader Helio Castroneves was fifth (1:18.8965). The top 10 were separated by one second; the top 24 were separated by less than two seconds.

JR Hildebrand admittedly was rusty after nearly three months out of an IZOD IndyCar Series cockpit. “I’m pumped to be back,” the 25-year old from Sausalito, Calif., said after turning his first laps in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Dallara/Honda during the Open Test at Sonoma Raceway on Wednesday. “As much as anything, it’s just getting back out and getting a feel for things.”

The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Hildebrand said setting quick lap times was secondary to working with Barracuda Racing team engineer Todd Malloy. “I’ve been in the shop with the team and talking through the strategy behind the setups and what I think about the track and my experience and trying to be as prepared as possible,” Hildebrand said. “I feel like we’re off to a reasonable start.”

Barracuda Racing’s Bryan Herta is evaluating his options for next season by fielding Hildebrand and Luca Filippi. Hildebrand was released by Panther Racing after crashing out of the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Jimmy Vasser wasn’t on-site at Sonoma for Wednesday’s Open Test. Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology and the 1996 CART champion, was in Detroit to introduce former Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Zanardi for induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

The 2013 Silver Anniversary class included event attendees Zanardi (Open Wheel), Brad Lackey (Motorcycles), Bud Moore (Stock Cars) and Bob Riley (Bob Russo Motorsports Heritage Award). In addition, friends, family members and colleagues presented or accepted honors for posthumous inductees Jack Chrisman (Drag Racing), Harvey Firestone (Historic), Masten Gregory (Sports Cars) and Robert E. Petersen (At-Large).

The evening began with an inspiring keynote address by event Honorary Chairman Ralph Gilles, president/CEO, SRT Brand and Motorsports, Chrysler Group. Gilles referred to Zanardi as “an open-wheel champion I would describe as a human force of nature.”

Zanardi drove briefly in Formula One before moving to the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car team in 1996, capturing CART Rookie of the Year honors and series championships in 1997 and 1998.

“I am going to thank all of the people at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America for having me tonight here,” said Zanardi, who suffered devastating, life-threatening leg injuries in a crash in Germany in 2001. “But I am also going to thank all of the fans that were behind me, all of the people that I was working with who were real friends. I have to thank all of the people that were involved in Target Chip Ganassi Racing all of those years. It is a great honor for me to be here.”

More recently, Zanardi made headlines as an elite Paralympic athlete in handbike cycling, winning a pair of gold medals and a silver while representing his native Italy in the 2012 London Paralympics.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 23 2013
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