INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve all done it. You’re in your car and you accidentally hit something. It could be when you’re backing out of a parking spot or even your garage. It happens. But, when you do it, most of the time you get out of your car to assess the damage. You get paranoid to take to the road with the potential of a flat tire or damage cause from your fender bender.
Well, imagine doing so at 220+ mph. This time though, you’re not stopping to get out. You have to drive over a mile at speeds in excess of 225 and pushing 235 mph in the process. There is no stopping. There is no getting out to assess your damage. Your entire hopes and dreams for your year could be wiped out if so.
That’s exactly what Will Power had to do on Sunday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Team Penske driver was somehow in the Last Row Shootout. His No. 12 Chevrolet lacked speed in qualifying trim. It baffled them.
After having a great week of practice on race trim, so good that he said he put himself near the front of the large packs of cars practicing at IMS this past week because he felt his car was that good that he’d be able to race there next Sunday, Power was only 32nd fastest on the no tow report on Fast Friday. Was it a mistake? Were they sandbagging? Was Power, the guy that’s arguably one of the best qualifiers that the series has ever seen really going to be in danger of making the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500? Power has 62 poles to his credit. That’s five shy of Mario Andretti for most all-time. He had 11 straight years of qualifying in the Fast Nine here. He’s driving for a team with 18 Indy 500 wins as well as 18 Indy 500 poles.
Would he really miss the show?
Well, Power shockingly sat on the outside looking in on Saturday evening. He was nervous. While he had the best car in the Shootout, he wasn’t going to take anything for granted.
“I never ever, this place you just don’t know,” Power said on pit lane on Sunday afternoon. “Someone could go out, the wind could be good and they can trim out. You can not come into the place thinking that you’ll get into the race.”
Power also had a thought that crept into his mind on Saturday night too that the other teams in the field could conspire against them. He knows that he’s a threat here on race day. He’s in a Penske car. He’s won here in 2018. Wouldn’t their main rivals prefer him out of the field rather than in it?
“It just dawned on me last night that some of these guys can get a setup from another team,” Power admitted. “I did not take it lightly. I knew that it was going to be hard.”
So, here he was on his fourth and final lap of his qualifying run in the Last Row Shootout. His first three laps had him slower than Sage Karam. He was panicking a little. He knew he had to have a perfect lap and get everything out of his car. He had to use every inch of real estate on track too. Every last ounce of speed that this car had, Power was going to try to get it.
Then, he scrapped the outside wall exiting the second corner. He did so at speeds of 220 mph. It bent the tow out of his car. But, he knew that he had to make this race. If he takes it easy, there’s no way he’d be fast enough based off his first three laps. Could his car get repaired in enough time to make another run?
So, Power stood on the gas even harder. With damage, he went flat out the rest of the lap. Speeds crept higher. And higher. And higher. Power exited the corner, staring death right in its face. His Dallara was traveling down the backstreets at 227 mph. Then 228. Then 229. 230! 231! It got up to 234 mph. Turn 3 was coming up. A 90 degree corner with low banking. His car is on the verge of crashing already before he hit the wall. Now, he knows he has damage.
He’s not lifting.
Power, powers his way through the north end of the track. The car stuck. He exits Turn 4, stares down history and crosses the yard of bricks.
228.876 mph four-lap average.
Is it going to be good enough?
“Three minutes to go,” Power said on when he could finally relax after his qualifying run.
The Aussie knew that the cars behind him would struggle to even get to that time but you can never rest on your loreals here.
Simona de Silvestro went slower. Then did Charlie Kimball. Then did RC Enerson. A collective grasp of air came through his helmet. He was safe through the first round. But, he knew that it was far from over. Kimball and Enerson weren’t going to give up. They would go out and try again.
Enerson was slower. So was Kimball. That was it. Power, escaped frustration and he’s a part of the 33 car field for next Sunday’s race.
“It wasn’t easy today because you had the wind on your nose and then you just had to deal with four laps,” Power said. “Stressful man. Stressful. Big relief. It will be a good sleep tonight.
“Lets put it this way, I can say in my career that I’ve experienced everything. This is just another point of my career of the experience. You’ll remember back on your career to the day that you just got in with a brush of the wall.”
Power said that they were baffled and perplexed to be in this position.
“We just didn’t have the speed,” he noted.
The thing is, they spend so much time this off-season in Indy development and it didn’t pan out. That’s puzzling to them.
“We don’t know,” he told me on what areas do they feel like they’re missing. “I can’t tell you how much of an effort that we put on this race and we just don’t know. They did a great job. We don’t understand. We don’t understand. It’s not from a lack of effort.”
Power said his race car is good and that they’ve been strong in that setup. It’s just that he’s worked in front of the train all week because they expected to be there next Sunday. Now, that approach changes.
“Our race car is good. We were strong. We were good in race work. I’ve been practicing running at the front of the trains because I expected to be at the front.”