IndyCar: How Will Power’s unique approach led to a rare championship

Will Power, Team Penske, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Will Power, Team Penske, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Will Power secured his second IndyCar championship on Sunday at Laguna Seca, capping off a 2022 season in which he took a new approach.

From 2010 to 2020, Team Penske’s Will Power had nine multi-win IndyCar seasons that did not result in a championship, in addition to the one (2014) that did.

But a new approach in 2022, centered around consistency and maximizing on what the car had to offer every weekend, led to somewhat of a surprising resurgence — and a second career title.

In 2021, Power finished outside of the top five in the championship standings for the first time since joining Roger Penske’s organization, and he wasn’t relatively close, finishing in ninth place with just seven top 10 finishes in 16 races. The 2021 season was just his second one-win season with the team. The other came in 2015.

In 2022, he also won only one race. But he was consistently able to maximize the performance of the #12 Chevrolet, and his third place days led to third place results instead of 16th place results, like he had seen so many times in seasons past.

He finished the season having completed every lap for the first time in his career, and he stood on the podium nine times in 17 races. Only one other driver, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, even had nine top five finishes, and only four of those were podium finishes.

“Definitely a different feeling [compared to 2014],” Power, who took the #1 Chevrolet for his 2015 championship defense, told Beyond the Flag. “A lot more experience now, and kind of a different sort of season. The approach was very much going the long game, making sure that we finished every lap every race and that I was very consistent.

“Extremely different even in feeling, like not as big of a high. I enjoyed the journey way more. I enjoyed the season a lot, all the races, and yeah, just extremely satisfying.”

With a 16-point gap over teammate Josef Newgarden in the final championship standings, Power could have won the championship even had he not won a race in 2022.

His lone win came in what was the final race on Belle Isle, and he could have finished that race as low as third place and still won the title.

But considering the fact that he had that race in the bag in 2021 before his car wouldn’t start following a red flag period, the win was one of his top moments of 2022, especially since the race is set to shift to the streets of Downtown Detroit in 2023.

“Probably one of my best moments of the season was winning in Detroit, winning the last race there and getting to go in that fountain,” he said. “A bit of redemption from the year before when the car wouldn’t start and we were leading that race.”

Ahead of the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the 41-year-old Australian took his series-leading fifth pole position of the 2022 season and 68th of his career, breaking Mario Andretti’s record of 67. That too was a high for him this year.

“Probably surpassing Mario Andretti’s record, which I couldn’t really enjoy on Saturday, but I’ll look back at this last weekend as an amazing weekend to get the 68th pole and then go on to win the championship,” he said. “You can’t really ask for much more than that.”

Not since the 1996–1997 Indy Racing League season has an IndyCar driver won just one race and still won the championship.

Tony Stewart pulled it off that year, but the series was much, much different back then. This year, there were 25 full-time drivers and 17 races. A quarter-century ago, there were seven full-time drivers and 10 races.

Since unification in 2008, the fewest wins for a champion in a single season had been three, a mark set five times, including by Power himself in 2014. So how was Power able to pull it off with just one?

“It was just experience, understanding when to push, when not to push,” he said. “It was really just putting everything together. I feel like we kind of extracted the most out of every weekend that we could.”

Interestingly, it marks the second straight year in which the eventual champion could have gone winless and still won the title. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou pulled if off in 2021, when he won three races.

Not everything was perfect for Power, of course, but it never is in racing. The difference for Power in 2022 compared to years past was taking what was available.

“Some of the qualifyings were bad,” he continued. “We had penalties, we had just bad runs, sometimes we weren’t quite fast enough. But then we’d turn the race around and get the most out of that situation. It was just a year of that, just executing on all fronts and no mistakes. I can’t remember a year like this in my career.”

If you would have asked IndyCar fans back in the summer of 2010 when Power would be going for his second title, many would have said 2011. But in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Power lost his championship lead in the season finale. Since winning the title in 2014, he hadn’t entered another season finale with the points lead until now.

“There were many things that we could not have happen,” he said of preparing for this year’s season finale, which he entered with a lead bigger than he held entering the finales in all three of those aforementioned runner-up seasons. “We didn’t want a mechanical failure, we had to nail qualifying; I really felt that, to make sure we were in that position to finish in the top three.

“Just a lot of weight on your shoulders and pressure to make sure I don’t do anything wrong, and then also from the guys on the pit stops and the car prep and all that stuff as well. As you know from watching motorsport, a lot of things have to go right, because there are so many things that can go wrong. I have to say, absolute team effort for that reason.”

Team Penske largely dominated the 2022 season, and that was true from the start, when they reeled off three straight wins with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin.

However, there was a time this past summer when it seemed as though all three of Chip Ganassi Racing’s contenders — six-time champion Dixon, reigning champion Palou, and Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson — were going to deliver the Honda powerhouse a third consecutive title and perhaps lock Team Penske out of the fight.

After the July race on the streets of Toronto, Chip Ganassi Racing was, in total, 11 points shy of owning a 1-2-3 in the standings.

Yet it was Team Penske which came through down the stretch and ended the year just 11 points shy of a 1-2-3 in the IndyCar standings.

“That’s very interesting because we didn’t do that much development for road and street courses and short ovals,” Power explained.

These types of tracks made up the entire post-Indy 500 schedule.

“Really all our development went into the Indy 500, and that was actually our weakest race,” he continued. “The biggest improvement was the engine side. The biggest improvement was Chevy. Drivability, much better drivable engine, that was the biggest gain.”

The Indy 500 has been a weak point for Team Penske in each of the last three seasons. But Power is aiming to win both a second Indy 500 and a third IndyCar championship next year and become the first driver to win both in the same season since 2010 when Dario Franchitti pulled it off. Ironically, when Franchitti pulled it off, it was also his second Indy 500 win and third IndyCar title.

“It’s both — it is, it is both,” he said when asked about his primary goal for next year. “As a team, we just have to be better at Indy. There’s the chassis side and there’s the engine side. The engine’s pretty close, but every year, I think Honda turned up with a little bit more this year, so we’ll have to go back and the guys will work on that.

“But it’s become extremely competitive at that race with all the tiny little details you have to get right to make the car fast. We’ve worked on it hard in the offseason. It hasn’t been through not trying. We as a team worked extremely hard, so we’re having to keep going back to the drawing board.”

Finally a two-time champion, and one who now owns the all-time poles record, Power has a decision to make. Does he take the same consistency-based approach into 2023, or does he put an emphasis on climbing the all-time wins list?

Power owns 41 career victories, good for fifth place on the all-time list. He trails Michael Andretti on that list by just one and is well-positioned to move into fourth next year.

“That is a good point,” he said. “Would you ever start taking some big risks just to win races? But we were knocking, you think about a couple of these races, they just go slightly differently, I win the race. It was just one of those years where those opportunities to win were very close and they just didn’t quite work out, but they ended up being a second or a third.

“It’ll be a similar approach, and the law of averages is that you will win more races if you have that same approach and you’re there knocking on the door. Out of nine podiums, we got one win. If you just convert a couple more of them, you’ve got the formula to win races.”

In a series as competitive as this one though, he’ll take the nine podium finishes and continue that approach in the hopes of becoming the first three-time champion since Dixon in 2013.

“It’s crazy how tough it’s become,” he stated. “When I looked at Portland practice, there were 20 cars covered by seven tenths (of a second). It’s just so tough.

“I think it’s the toughest driver series in the world because of how diverse you have to be. You have got to be good on superspeedways, you’ve got to be good on short ovals, you’ve got to be good on street courses and road courses.

“And even within those different disciplines, they are all different tracks as well. Some street courses are extremely bumpy, some are smooth, some ovals are extremely abrasive and low-grip, some high. It’s a hard series to get right. It’s a very hard series to win because you have got to be so good in all those disciplines. Extremely competitive. You’re not going to find a series like that around, in open-wheels anyway.”

Despite the 2022 championship being his second IndyCar title, Power became a six-time champion this year — a six-time road and street course champion. The driver once known as a road and street course specialist hadn’t won this title since 2015, when he won it for the fifth time in six years.

But becoming more diverse has been a focal point of his IndyCar career, highlighted, of course, by his first Indy 500 win and first oval championship in 2018.

While he hasn’t won any oval races since Pocono Raceway’s final race (for now) in 2019, he was in contention to win four of the five on the 2022 schedule, and he has admitted that he really doesn’t have a strong preference anymore.

“I really enjoy the ovals,” he said. “Probably equally strong on either — I definitely was in contention to win at Gateway, I was in contention to win at Iowa — but, strong all-around, so I don’t really mind whether they add road courses or street courses or ovals.”

Power is already thinking ahead to the 2023 season, and it is currently set to be a contract year for him. But his focus now is on celebrating 2022.

“Both – already thinking about next year!” he admitted. “But I’m going to enjoy this one. You don’t get to do this stuff forever. For me, it’s been a long time between championships, so I’m gonna soak it in and enjoy it and then recharge and come back next year and try to go for a third.”

But until the 2023 season begins, he has one main goal.

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“I’m very keen to get back to Australia and see my family,” Power concluded. “I haven’t seen them for three years, so that’s the first thing on my list.”