When the IndyCar season wraps up on Saturday, one thing is clear: Either Will Power or Ryan Hunter-Reay will take home his maiden championship when the chequered flag flies.
Penske driver Power goes in the winner-take-all race with a slim 17-point lead over rival Hunter-Reay who races for the Andretti Autosport team.
Essentially, Power’s strategy is to stay close to his challenger and ensure that he covers the points should Hunter-Reay cross the line ahead of his Penske.
“I will be aware the whole race where he’s at, more so the second half of the race. You just make decisions as you go along. You understand the situation and react accordingly,” Power said.
“Obviously, if I’m ahead of Ryan in the last quarter of the race, at that point you become very aggressive and you have to go for it in the smartest way possible.”
With drivers getting 10 points for starting the race, the pressure is squarely on Hunter-Reay, who more than likely will need to finish in the top-3 just to have a shot at winning the title. While the point scenarios are complex and varied, Power has the clear advantage. Not counting bonus points, should Power finish eighth or better, which he has done in 10 of the 14 starts this year, Hunter-Reay must win to be champion. A top-3 finish by Power delivers the title no matter what Hunter-Reay does.
“We need to be fighting for the lead the last few stints of the race, that’s the key. It comes down to that,” Hunter-Reay said.
“If we finish first, second or third, we’ve got a shot at winning this thing, but first is all we’re focused on. When it comes to the end, it’s risk-taking time no matter what. We have to go for it – if we’re doing anything other than that, we don’t deserve it.”
While both go into Saturday’s race looking for their first championship, Power may be hungrier after losing the last two IndyCar titles to Dario Franchitti in the season finale.
Two years ago, the 31-year-old Toowoomba, Australia, native went into the finale at Miami-Homestead Speedway 12 points up on Franchitti after taking a season-high five wins in the first 16 races. Things didn’t go exactly as planned for Power who tagged the wall 135 laps into the race and irreparably damaged his suspension. His 25th-place finish combined with Franchitti’s eighth meant the title slipped through Power’s fingers by a scant five points.
Last season, Power’s championship hopes evaporated in the penultimate race at Kentucky Speedway when Ana Beatriz speared his car in the pitlane as the Penske was leaving his stall, ruining his day. The damage turned his previously front-running car onto a backmarker and he left Kentucky 18 points behind Franchitti. When the season finale was cancelled following the death of Dan Wheldon in a pile-up 12 laps into the race, Franchitti was crowned champion.
While he has two title showdowns under his belt, Power doesn’t think it will give him an advantage on Saturday night.
“This has come down to just one race – basically either it’s your day or it’s not,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s always making the most out of every situation, whatever you’re given. We just focus on the job that we have to do to execute on the day. The rest will work itself out. Either we’ll be champion or we won’t.”
Although Hunter-Reay conceded that Power has been strong at learning how to race an entire season with the championship in mind by making the most of the points that are available, he agreed that his opponent’s experience from the past two title fights won’t play a big role on the weekend.
“When it comes to one race, I don’t think there’s any advantage to it at all,” said the 31-year-old Texan.
“He’s done a great job to get himself here. I’ve certainly learned a lot this year that I’ll be able to apply next year in how to really go after a championship. It’s something that you apply over a season. It’s more of an endurance stretch rather than looking at it as one 500-mile race.”
One element that could come into play is the four teammates who may get implicated in the championship as the race unfolds.
Both Andretti and Penske have three-car teams, with Oakville, Ont.’s, James Hinchcliffe and U.S. driver Marco Andretti supporting Hunter-Reay, while Brazilian Helio Castroneves and Australian Ryan Briscoe will carry Power’s flag.
Although there is the possibility of teammates trying to help their driver grab the top prize, Power insisted he’d rather the title battle be a straight fight between the two contenders.
“I hope no one tries to be the hero – It’s not very sportsman like,” Power said.
“I haven’t spoken to any other driver about involvement or helping or so on. How does anybody ever know what the dynamic of the race is going to be? I hope there is none of that. Other drivers understand it’s a championship between Ryan and myself.”
Racing loses its Prof
There’s no doubt that every racing driver, team owner, and fan owes Prof. Sid Watkins a huge debt of gratitude.
Simply put, many Formula One drivers are alive today due to his dogged determination to make the sport safer. There is no doubt that his contributions to the sport are felt every day.
Known in the paddock as “Professor Sid,” Watkins served as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) F1 Safety and Medical Delegate for 26 years before retiring in 2005.
The neurosurgeon saved several drivers trackside, including a miraculous emergency tracheotomy on Mika Häkkinen after a massive crash in qualifying for the 1995 Australian Grand Prix.
It was also Watkins the sport turned to for answers – and solutions – when it lost three-time world champion Ayrton Senna in a high-speed crash during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
On that fateful day, Watkins attended to his fatally injured close friend and watched him take his last breath.
Soon after Senna’s death, Watkins was named chairman of the FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee which delivered reforms that have ensured no F1 driver has lost his life since.
Although he retired from active work as a doctor in F1 seven years ago, Watkins remained as the FIA Institute president until late last year.
Watkins died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 84.
Hinch going down under
Canadian James Hinchcliffe will make his stock car debut next month, but it won’t be in NASCAR.
Instead, the Go Daddy-backed driver will have to travel halfway around the world to get into an Australian V8 Supercar for the Gold Coast 600 in Surfers Paradise.
Hinchcliffe will drive for the Fujitsu Racing/GRM team in the race that’s a popular event for drivers from around the world.
“For me it’s a dream come true to get behind the wheel of one of those cars,” he said in a release.
“With the V8 Supercar you probably have just as much horsepower as an IndyCar but a lot more weight, tin top, closed cockpit, and the tires are a lot skinnier with a lot less grip.”
Each year, drivers representing more than two dozen countries race in the Gold Coast 600. In 2011, four-time Championship Auto Racing Teams titlist Sebastian Bourdais, who now races in IndyCar, took the victory in one of the two races.
And it’s probably not a huge stretch to think that Hinchcliffe will be hoping for a better outcome in his second Australian racing adventure.
Five years ago when he was racing in the now-defunct A1GP Series, Hinchcliffe made his Australian debut at the Eastern Creek International Raceway. His maiden race weekend down under was marked by a spectacular accident where he touched wheels with another car in a 160-kilometre-per-hour corner and barrel-rolled into a gravel trap. His car came to a stop upside down.
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