Back on the track, Will Power talks Wheldon, new IndyCar car, more
Physically, mentally and emotionally, all is better Will Power said.
Power broke vertebrae in his back when his Team Penske car hurdled airborne during the Izod IndyCar Series crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16 that resulted in the death of former series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500-winner Dan Wheldon. Power's physical wounds healed relatively quickly, with rest, he said. Two serious accidents in the past three seasons -- he broke two vertebrae in his back after crashing into the stationary car of Nelson Philippe during a practice at Sonoma, Calif., in 2009 -- at first led him to question his vocation, he said. Time once again, he said, set that straight.
"To me, you just go through phases," he said. "Directly after, you think, 'Is this the right thing for me to do?' You think, 'Is there any possible way you can't race in this series?' Then once you get time ... things become more normal and you get back in the car and you just move forward. You're back where you were and loving what you do. After testing for two days I kind of wanted to get back in a car again.
"To see someone [Wheldon] you competed against for four years and you see him around the paddock and spent time with him that weekend doing PR stuff and to be gone so quickly, just to be gone, is what is so tough for a driver. To see one of your fellow competitors killed does make you sit back and think. It's sad what happened. Whenever you think about it, it upsets you."
Power said he knew immediately after the crash that Wheldon, who also went airborne, but into the catch fence, was in peril because of the reaction of medical crews. IndyCar investigators have not deposed him on what he saw in the moments before the crash, but he said, "I think it's kind of obvious what happened and for it not to happen again."
And Power has several suggestions to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
"From many different angles, make it safer, from the racing aspect, from the racing side of things and the track side of things, and the chassis side of thing," he said. "Those are three things you can change to make it safer: by not having cars bunched up in a really tight pack, you make it safer from a cockpit standpoint, so you're not so vulnerable as far as your head goes and everything else around you; you can also make it safer from a track perspective, running on tracks with too much banking or just the fencing in general. There's a lot of angles to be looked at and probably are being looked at now."
Power, who said he feels the series is committed to eliminating the confluence of variables that conspired against Wheldon, prefers not to return to the "style of track in that configuration of racing."
Power did, however, return to a different track this week, completing more than 115 laps in two days of testing at Barber Motorsports Park. He said the new DW12 car -- named after its chief test driver, Wheldon -- that will debut this year "is definitely going to be faster" because it's lighter than the decommissioned model and features an improved grip. How the combination of a new chassis and three new engine manufacturers (Lotus, Honda, Chevy; Penske will use only Chevy) will change racing on street and road courses, ovals and at Indianapolis cannot be assessed until the first race, said Power, who has finished second to champion Dario Franchitti the last two seasons.
"What I think it will do, there is no way they [the new cars] are going to all be the same speed or as strong in the same areas, so I think that it's probably going to create interesting, good racing," he said. "I think Indy, for the first year, I think it will be everyone just waiting to see which manufacturer is going to be strongest around that place, and reliable, too. I think reliability will definitely come into it. I think you will definitely see some engine failures during the year. I think we've all become so used to having such good reliability in the car and the engine, it will mix things up as well."
Power's in-car schedule has concluded and commences a long offseason -- the 2012 opener is March 25 in St. Petersburg, Fla. -- that is much-needed, he said.
"We have a lot of stuff to sort out: the new car, the new engine, everything. It takes time to get things right," he said.