With a pair of second-place finishes in the IndyCar series the past two years, it would seem the pressure is on Will Power going into Saturday’s season finale in California.
Yet with a 17-point lead on Fort Lauderdale’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, Power sounds confident this is his year.
Last year, Power went into last year’s final race at Las Vegas 18 points behind Dario Franchitti and never really had a chance to win the championship. Power was part of the wreck that cost Dan Wheldon his life. The race was called after that crash.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Power said of the 500-mile run on the California Auto Club two-mile oval.
“I’ve been in this position the past two years. You just have to execute and the rest will work itself out. The more experience you get, the more strength you get as a driver. I’m going into the race to win it, make the most of every situation.’’
Hunter-Reay, who attended high school at Cardinal Gibbons and Pine Crest in Fort Lauderdale, stormed back into competition with a nice win at the Baltimore Grand Prix earlier this month.
Hunter-Reay cut Power’s lead in half after coming from behind to win on the downtown streets of Baltimore and put himself in position for his first IndyCar title.
Said Hunter-Reay: “Baltimore was a pretty big deal for us.’’
With a series-leading four victories this season, Hunter-Reay has definitely deserved his placement.
“The pressure is on both of us,’’ Hunter-Reay said. “The biggest trophy in our sport is on the line. I like the position we’re in. We’re chasing. We’ve been pretty good at that. ... We just have to concentrate on getting a good race car.’’
As is the case sometimes in racing, the two battling for the title might soon go from being rivals to teammates.
Hunter-Reay is in the final race of his contract after three years with Michael Andretti Racing.
Roger Penske’s team, of which Power is a part of, is potentially looking at Hunter-Reay to become the third driver along with Fort Lauderdale’s Helio Castroneves.
Team Penske is looking for its first IndyCar series title in six years.
Andretti has said he is hopeful Hunter-Reay returns to his team. But that is business that will wait. For now, Andretti and Hunter-Reay are looking at chasing down Penske and Power at Sonoma.
“I think we got them worried, and we should have them worried if he’s not,” Andretti said after Baltimore.
“I think we are really looking forward to it. We did exactly what we needed to do coming into this weekend. ... We are making it a show in Fontana, and that’s what it’s all about. We are excited about it, and we feel very good that, you know, we are going to be a factor there in the end.’’
Because he’s behind, Hunter-Reay expects to drive an aggressive race — especially as the day goes on. In a 500-mile race, Hunter-Reay doesn’t want to run himself out of position early.
“At the end, its risk-taking time no matter what,” he said. “If we don’t do that, we don’t deserve it. We need to be fighting for the lead at the end of the race. That’s the key. We finish first, second or third, we got a shot. But we’re aiming to win it.’’
Said Power: “I’ll know where he is. Especially in the second half of the race.”