Championship key for Power - Remain calm, get wins
For two-thirds of the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Will Power was nearly invincible.
The pole sitter in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car appeared to be a pit stop away from securing his third consecutive victory on the Sonoma road course, which would have made him the fifth driver (including himself at Brazil in late April) in the past decade to win at the same venue three years in a row.
But Power, who swept the three bonus points for earning the pole and leading a field-high 57 laps, lost the lead for good during the final service sequence that bridged a full-course caution. He entered pit lane under green with a 7.2271-second lead over teammate Ryan Briscoe on Lap 64. Briscoe, driving the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske entry, pitted a lap later under yellow and beat Power to the blend line to retain the point.
"It started well all the way to the last stop. I had the quickest car, quite easily keeping a handy lead," Power said. "We had a slow stop, probably lost 4 seconds there, then came across a bunch of guys on the track who just doddled all the way back. I don't know who those guys were. That's when I was using the word 'wanker.' Cost me the race."
Despite his post-race protestations that opened a window to his competitiveness, Power still increased his IZOD IndyCar Series championship points lead over all seven of his rivals thanks in part to their misfortunes and miscues in the 85-lap battle on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course.
Power, competing in his 100th Indy car race, bumped his advantage over Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport from five points to 36 as Hunter-Reay's car was spun and stalled late in the race to finish 18th.
Helio Castroneves, who overcame a Lap 1 penalty to finish sixth, is 41 points behind. Two-time series champion Scott Dixon remains fourth, but gave up 26 points to Power with a 13th place after his car was spun, penalized and damaged. Rookie Simon Pagenaud supplanted James Hinchcliffe for fifth with a seventh-place finish.
"I'm in win mode. Wins are right there, but we're not getting them," added Power, who clinched the Mario Andretti Trophy as the driver who scores the most points on road/street courses for the third year in a row. "You have to think of the championship as well. If we have the car to win, we go for it. Obviously, as you get further into the season, you become more aware of what (title challengers) are doing, if they're behind you or in front of you, and know how aggressive you've got to be."
Power's mind-set is honed-in from being in the thick of the title chase the past two seasons. With two races left in 2011, he held an 11-point lead over Dario Franchitti but fell short of securing his first title by 18 points. The year before, he was 17 points ahead of Franchitti entering the penultimate race.
The series heads to the final street/road race of the season - the Grand Prix of Baltimore - this week. Power is the defending champion on the 2-mile temporary street circuit, which is seeing a few modifications such as removal of the frontstretch chicane and widening of the right-hand Turn 1.
"I have an idea of what they're going to change. I think it's going to make for better racing," Power said.