Power seizes IndyCar series; NASCAR gears up for Brickyard
TORONTO -- While most of the attention in the IZOD IndyCar Series was focused on the new car that will hit the track in 2012,
The Team Penske driver solidified his chances to win the 2010 IndyCar championship with his victory in Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto. It was his fourth win this season and the second time in 2010 that he has gone back to back. Power won the previous IndyCar race at Watkins Glen International on July 4. He opened the season with two straight wins at Brazil and St. Petersburg.
Power has a great shot at a third straight win next Sunday in Edmonton, Alberta. He's the defending champ on a grueling temporary road course on the runways and taxiways of City Centre Airport. Although the driver from Australia still has defending series champion
And that is why his victory Sunday could seal a series championship. The season concludes Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Add it all up, and Power's second "Two-fer" has him in great shape to take charge of the championship heading to the Western Province of Alberta.
Sunday's street race in Toronto had all the beating and banging that fans in the United States would find in a NASCAR race. In fact, Toronto may be IndyCar's version of Bristol Motor Speedway.
And while Power may be from Australia, fans in the United States are getting to know his dry comical wit from a series of commercials featuring Power and Team Penske NASCAR Nationwide Series driver
Power then proceeds to say a better nickname would be "Little Tiger" or "Little Dingo."
But it's the race track where Power usually gets the last laugh, and he did that on Sunday when he wrested the lead from
Power attacked Wilson like an animal in the Outback. Once in front, he drove to victory and gave team owner Roger Penske a record 150th Open Wheel victory.
"That last restart, when I passed Justin, was a key to winning the race," Power said. "I was all on it because the tires got a lot of pickup (front worn tire rubber on the track), and they were cold. I knew everyone was going to be struggling with a lot more chance of people making mistakes. That's what Justin did on the restart, and I got a run on him.
"I would say a calculated but risky move to pass him on the outside because I wasn't sure I'd make it out the other side. It was close, but sometimes you have to do that in racing if you want to win, and that's what happened."
Power has the heart of a true racer, and with Team Penske he has the equipment to match that drive and determination.
That could add up to the IZOD IndyCar Series championship at the end of the season.
All of Power's wins, however, have come on street or road courses. He has yet to win a race on an oval and with the last four races of the 2010 season coming on oval tracks that could be the key to whether he wins the title from more oval proficient drivers such as the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing tandem of Franchitti and Dixon.
"We're trying to beat him," Franchitti said. "I think today we had as good a car as he did. We just made that gamble on the strategy. That allowed him to get back past us in the pits. For me, that was all there was to it."
Power doesn't change his attitude based on tracks or standings. He knows just one way to compete, and that is full-throttle.
"I race how I race," Power said. "I don't think you change your attitude because of your position in points. I think once you get in the race, you don't think of anything about what you're doing except at that second. That's how I approach every weekend.
"It will be the same when I get to the last four ovals. It will be exactly the same."
With the next three races on street and permanent road courses, Power, realizes how important that could be to his championship drive. After heading to Edmonton, IndyCar takes a weekend off and then heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 8 and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., on Aug. 22.
After that, the season concludes on the ovals at Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"If I could win every road course race going into that, it would be great," Power said. "I know it's going to be a tough championship to win. I was aware coming into the season that I had lack of experience on mile-and-a-half ovals. I think the only place it really showed was Kansas, where I was very cautious and just finished the race. Everywhere else, I felt like I could have challenged for the win.
"I want to win an oval race before the year is out. I've been knocking on the door. So I think that may come."
If Power could win an oval race before the end of this season, it could be game over for the 2010 IndyCar Series championship.
One of the most important announcements in IndyCar racing this decade came Wednesday in Indianapolis when the series announced that innovation would return with a unique car strategy beginning in 2012. Although longtime chassis supplier Dallara will build the "Safety Cell" that every team will use, it opened the opportunity for other companies to build the "skin" to the cars known as "aero kits."
The strategy is hoped to return innovation to the sport -- something that made IndyCar racing truly unique in its past with some of the most famous race cars in history. And while DeltaWing proved to be just a little too revolutionary for the ICONIC Advisory Board to bank on IndyCar's future, designer
New IndyCar Series CEO
IndyCar had to get this decision right as it attempts to revive its series and become relevant again. Armed with an aggressive series sponsor to help promote and market the product, the next step will come in the 2012 season with the new car.
The Dallara concept won out over DeltaWing, Swift, Lola and BAT Engineering. DeltaWing and Swift have both indicated they will not build aero kits but Lotus cars of England have expressed interest.
The safety cell price is $349,000 while the aero kits which include wings, sidepods and engine covers will sell for $36,000 and $70,000.
"This is a time for the series to change up," team owner
"We have to understand what the rules are. We don't want this to become a technical situation where we are spending money to go a tenth faster. But the concept is solid."
Penske indicated he has yet to make a decision whether he will build the aero kits. He may start out with the baseline Dallara aero kit. The team has a wind tunnel in Charlotte that it uses for the NASCAR team but no longer has the Penske Cars, Ltd. Operation in Poole, England having divested that.
"Until the rules are issued we won't know that," Penske said. "It will put some costs in but the cars will cost less so at the end of the day the cost saving will be taken up by what you want to do if you develop the car yourself."
Teams based in Indiana will get a price discount leading Penske to joke that the rumors are already out there that he will move the IndyCar team from Mooresville, N.C. For now, the team will remain right where it is.
"If the car is safe and cars are available to the teams that will keep the cost lower and that is what we want," Penske said. "And we will see cars with different looks and that is what everyone wants. This is going to change the grid. For the first year there will be a much broader difference between front to back on the grid."
Currently, the IndyCar Series is using Dallara chassis that were produced in 2003 so it is well past the time that there will be some change to the way these cars look after the current car is parked after the 2011 season.
"We'll get some cars that look different and that is going to be a step forward," Penske said. "There is some change and the change is going to be for the better. With Randy Bernard taking over the responsibility and as quickly as we were able to solidify the engine package and the new car with a series sponsor we are a lot better as a series than we were a year ago. We have 26 cars on the grid here at Toronto and that is terrific in a very tough economy."
The IndyCar Series drivers are also ready for a change and realize that with the current economic conditions it wouldn't be feasible to have true open competition with a variety of car makers and engine manufacturers.
"Everyone would love to have open competition but we all know how much that would cost," said driver Justin Wilson. "Right now, it is not financially viable to keep that open. This allows us to have some flexibility but still keeping the cost under control. Dallara has given us a pretty good, safe car so having Dallara build the tub is reassuring to know as a driver.
"If I were at Penske or Ganassi and that that kind of budget I'd want to see them open it up but unless all the teams have the money you can't control cost and have the open competition. Times have changed."
And the time had come for IndyCar to change its car and it appears the series achieved a great compromise by allowing some development to the outside of the car, which should bring a little diversity back to the sport.
When NASCAR arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, they probably could have sold 800,000 to 1 million tickets for that race. But 16 years later, there are probably 100,000 tickets left to sell at the massive Indianapolis Motor Speedway that has close to 300,000 seats.
Times have changed in the sport thanks to a bad economy and the fact that many of racing's new fans have moved on to other forms of entertainment.
"I don't think Indy would be as significant if it weren't for the Indy 500 and the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Gordon said. "If they never held an IndyCar race there and we went to Indianapolis even as unique a track as it is, it would be No. 10 on the list. I think the Indy 500 is what holds so much significance as to why that race is so popular.
"I think it's hard to compete with history, but I think when we got there and you look at how popular our sport is and the drivers and the sponsors and everything that we attract, I think that there is a more avid fan base there for our race than there is for the Indy 500. The Indy 500 is an event, and it's a worldwide event, and while it's still popular, I think that our race actually has more avid popularity from the fans just from the standpoint and the support that we have when we go there than they do."
Gordon spent his formative racing years in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., as a teenager and was an avid Indy 500 fan before his career led him from open-wheel cars to NASCAR.
"The inaugural Brickyard 400 was probably No. 1 that year, but today it's No. 2," Gordon said. "The Daytona 500 is our biggest race, and in my opinion, the Brickyard is No. 2."
Despite the large number of empty seats that will be visible Sunday at the Brickyard, Gordon believes the Midwest remains a hotbed for racing fans.
"I think there was a time when the Indy 500 was all about Indy and Indy cars and
"The most frustrating thing is a guy that does four races a year, you go see him, he tells you the F word, just payback, see you later. He was like actually happy that he didn't finish the race, and he took us out. That's a pretty long time to keep a grudge. You know, either the series does something maybe a little bit more strict and gets the drivers to be a little bit more courteous and respectful, or, like I always said, if you take it in your own hands, it never ends. He pushes you back, you push him back, it's never going to stop. His attitude was really sad at the end of the race. I thought that was pretty (crappy). I hope we'll be back in Edmonton because I have a lot of front wings to damage." -- Canadian IndyCar driver
"It was a really tough race today from the word 'go.' It was like a football game out there. Everybody was hitting each other, getting nasty for a while." -- Ryan Hunter-Reay describing the action in Toronto.
For this Indiana-born, Hoosier-proud soul, there is no where I'd rather be next weekend than Edmonton. While I love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and revere what it means to auto racing, I get my "fix" every month of May at the Indianapolis 500. After covering every Brickyard 400 from 1994-2007 and every United States Grand Prix from 2000-2006, those events were like "road games" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So I'll leave it to the NASCAR drivers, teams and fans next weekend while I head to Edmonton to watch IndyCar drivers such as Power, Franchitti, Dixon, Castroneves and
Fear not natives of the Hoosier State because I'll be "Back Home Again in Indiana" next May, if not a few times before then.