Today marks one full calendar year since Team Penske IndyCar driver Will Power has won a race. Given the overwhelming balance of the schedule heavily shifted toward road and street courses, this is a bit puzzling until you dig through the history of the last 365 days. Power’s last win came when the IZOD IndyCar Series competed in the third annual Sao Paulo Indy 300 on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Will Power has stamped his brand of ownership on this street course as he is the only driver experience the top step in Victory Lane. Power was the class of the field in the 2012 race and would win for the final time in 2012, but to say that the remainder of his year was subpar would be harsh criticism as Power was the victim of circumstance and tough luck for the remaining eleven races of the season.
Will Power entered the month of May at the Indianapolis 500 looking to have a strong run on an oval track to set him up for the rest of the oval schedule. The month started well as Power and Tim Cindric quietly moved their way through practice and qualifying and ended up fifth, outside row two, on the starting grid. The Indianapolis 500 differs from most races in the IZOD IndyCar Series because it is a three hour, 500 mile marathon and patience in the early going is critical to being in contention for the win in the final segment of the race. Under Cindric’s direction, Power was riding around the top-10 biding his time and feeling out the handling characteristics of his car when Mike Conway, driver of the ABC Supply Co. car for AJ Foyt Racing nursing a broken front wing from a pit road incident spun in front of Power’s Verizon sponsored car entering turn one leaving Power with nowhere to go for evasion. Power was collected and his race was over.
Saying that Will Power’s win drought is only because of bad luck is as unfair and untrue as saying that Power didn’t take a pistol to his foot along the way. After a top-4 finish at the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit, Power returned to his old nemesis of IndyCar’s oval tracks which have been his Achilles heel over the past three seasons. Power entered the Texas Motor Speedway and outqualified both of his oval savvy teammates by a fair margin and found himself in the lead in the race’s waning stages. After Scott Dixon smacked the turn-4 wall, drivers lined up for a restart where Power threw a block the size of New York City at Tony Kanaan forcing Beaux Barfield to call Power to pit lane for a drive-through penalty. Instead of a win or a top-5, Power would finish 8th costing his team valuable points that would come back to bite the Aussie. After a mediocre showing at Milwaukee, Power had a competitive car at Iowa Speedway that went by the wayside when Power chopped EJ Viso sending both cars to the SAFER barrier and the garage ending their day.
It was back to the road courses following Iowa and the bad luck continued for Power as he won three consectutive Poles at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Baltimore but could not transfer those qualifying results into wins when only a single victory would have won him the Astor Cup as Champion of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Of all the bad luck and crashes that Power has accumulated, Power has had a much different puzzle to tackle so far in the 2013 season. For road and street courses, Firestone provides a primary tire with black sidewalls and an alternate, softer red sidewall tire that has better immediate grip but does not have the longevity of it’s black counterpart. For 2013, Firestone’s red compound are degrading much faster than in previous years. Compounding the problem is that the two different tire choices are providing vastly different car handling characteristics making the search for car balance a challenge at best. Power is accustomed to having a car that is perfectly balanced at all times which is fundamentally impossible given the tires that Firestone is providing. Power is going to have to unlearn some of what he has learned because he and his Team Penske team have lost their knife-edge precision because of the tires that they are being supplied. A new strategy must be implemented if Power is to return to Victory Lane and Championship contention.