LEXINGTON, Ohio — What a major difference in how one person could feel in a 24 hour span. Will Power was visibly frustrated after a disappointing end to his qualifying day around 3 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon. Around the same time on Sunday, the Australian native was smiling from head-to-toe after a podium finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Before we get to Sunday, lets rewind back to Saturday. The Team Penske driver wasn’t told by his pit stand that Helio Castroneves was behind him on a hot lap. Without being aware of the situation behind, Power swerved his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet on track in the first qualifying round coming into the keyhole around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Despite having the fastest lap, he was penalized not only that one, but his 2nd quickest too for impeding Castroneves’ progress. As a result, he’d 21st.
“It’s totally on us,” Power quipped. “I talked before the session and said I’ve got to know when somebody’s on a lap, when I’m on my out-lap and we can’t get one of these penalties. And we got one of those penalties. So, that’s just given away a chance at a top six I feel like, maybe a pole.”
On a track that 5 of the last 6 winners entering the day were won from the pole and 6 of the last 7 in general here from the front row, it put Power behind and making his new goal be one of just scoring a top 10 on Sunday.
“As you know, in the series anything can happen but you’re not going to get that lucky,” Power said of his expectations for Sunday’s 80 lapper “You can’t start that far back that many times. You’re not going to win, put it that way. On weekends when we’ve got a car that can win, we cannot be doing this. It’s on us. We weren’t on top of that one and got a penalty, that’s the rules.”
Well, those expectations nearly were overcome with jubilant joy because he was just 3.8415-seconds off of a miraculous come from behind win. 2 races after going from 16th to a win on the streets of Belle Isle, Power went from last to 3rd.
Yes, while starting 21st, he was last across the finish line on Lap 1. That’s because he spun on the opening lap and as a result, was scored in 27th (last).
He’d steadily pick off cars the rest of the way because he used that opening caution to go off strategy. He was now on a three stopper with a car that was arguably as fast as anyone of them out there this weekend.
“Yeah, I definitely feel like we had the fastest car because in the second practice I had left three tenths on the table,” he said. “I was up three tenths and the throttle broke, and then obviously in qualifying we had our issue. We had the fastest car and it really hurts to give up a chance at a pole or potentially a win, but to get back to third, you’re not looking back on those days saying that’s why we lost a championship, definitely.”
He says that the new Will Power wouldn’t have done anything different than the old one if this same situation arose a few years ago.
“I don’t think — it’s not that different,” he said. “I’m not doing anything crazy different. I’m just not having strange things happen like spark plugs and brakes not working and just weird things happen to me. I think we had just a great year all around because we haven’t had any mechanicals or anything like this, and yes, my — I did make a slight change in the off-season after watching him (nodding toward Palou), and it’s kind of — yeah, I’ll tell you after I’m finished what it was that actually I’ve caught on to that’s helped me a lot, after I’m done, and you’ll understand — I probably could tell you because you do it anyway. But yeah, it — yeah, it’s good.”
Power said Sunday was a very valuable lesson that even if you don’t pass any cars today, you’re still making positions.
“If you don’t make any mistakes, just to start with, and then you have a fast car on top of that and you make smart moves, you’re going to make positions,” he noted.
“You can’t get too desperate — like the first lap, that little — that was just being in the wrong spot sort of where I spun. But yeah, these races are so unpredictable, as you’ve seen all year. If you just hang in there, you’re going to end up in a good spot.”
This now saves Power’s championship potential. He entered the day 27 points back. He leaves 20 arrears with the Penske driver very optimistic at the tracks ahead to keep his dream alive of a 2nd career championship.
“Yeah, I do actually — having been around so long, I understand the tracks that I’m good at and what I’m — Toronto is always one that I struggle in qualifying for whatever reason. Usually good in the race,” Power said.
“After that they’re all — you’ve got to be good at all of them, and some that you think you’ll be really good at you may have a bad day, so you’ve got to make the most of everything. But there are some tracks your car is better, you’re stronger at, some click with you very well. That’s a path that you’ve got to keep working on, so be strong everywhere.”