DETROIT – Veteran Team Penske driver Will Power has his sights set squarely on winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2018.
And he believes the series’ sleeker new car with its universal aero kit package will help him to the title.
Power, 36, experienced a frustrating 2017 season despite leading the most laps of any driver, winning three races and claiming six poles.
Fighting off four races in which he didn’t finish, amid some truly rotten luck, he still managed to finish fifth in points to teammates Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, as well as Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. Power stayed in the championship hunt through the season finale at Sonoma but sacrificed any title ambitions for the team by playing “wing man” for Newgarden and keeping Dixon in his mirrors for the entire GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
“We were real strong on pace (in 2017),” said Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champ during a visit to the North American International Auto Show on Friday. “With four DNFs – one of them being double points (the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 23rd) – you can’t expect to be in the hunt … but I was still in the mix in the end, and that was amazing. So, there’s no doubt in my mind we are a contender (this season).”
With longtime favorite Castroneves assigned to sports cars full time for team owner Roger Penske this year, the INDYCAR pecking order at the legendary Penske stable could be seen as Newgarden at No. 1 followed by Pagenaud and then Power.
While Power thinks the camera-friendly Newgarden will inherit Castroneves’ role as media front man among the team’s drivers, he does not see it translating necessarily to the track.
“Josef, he’s the next most animated person now on the team,” Power joked at the INDYCAR display at Cobo Center. “It goes to him. I’m the least (animated), but I don’t feel the least bit like I’m a third-tier driver. I’m up for the coming season.”
Power, a four-time runner-up in the series, has tested the new Indy car at Sebring International Raceway during manufacturer testing in the fall and has given it a thumbs-up.
“I really like it,” Power said of the new-look car that makes its competition debut in the season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). “It’s definitely back to a more traditional Indy car look and the way it is going to behave with so much of the downforce coming from the floor.
“I think you’ll see a change in the racing. I saw onboard footage of (Juan Pablo Montoya) and (Oriol) Servia when they were testing the car at Mid-Ohio and I couldn’t believe how close they were getting to each other. I said, ‘Wow!’ You just couldn’t get that close, no way, with the other car.
“For sure, the racing will be better (this season). I can promise you that.”
Australian-born Power is a charger. He doesn’t mind it tough and close.
Will the new car and its less rear downforce and livelier character suit Power’s aggressive style of driving and help pilot him to a second championship?
“Hard to say … but I feel it will,” said Power, who has 50 career pole positions (third all time), 32 career victories (ninth all time) and is beginning his 10th year with Team Penske and 14th overall in Indy cars. “We are heading in the right direction. I like the car. It feels looser. Whatever it takes to make it fast, you’ve got to drive it that way.”
Some theorize that larger teams such as Penske, Ganassi and Andretti will be quicker to find the advantages of the new car. Power isn’t so sure.
“It’s going to be tight,” he said. “I can promise you that. Very, very tight. I think there will be different winners, week in, week out. I think the racing will be better everywhere we go.”