Power “even more calm than he’s shown” says strategist

IndyCar championship leader Will Power has kept his cool even better than has been portrayed in public, according to his strategist and Team Penske manager Ron Ruzewski.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet

Much has been made of Power’s mental switch this year, a determined effort to maintain his cool, and that policy has never been more sorely tried than at the races where the 2014 IndyCar champion has started further down than expected, or when circumstances have conspired against him. At both Barber Motorsports Park and Road America, he had seemed to be set for a Firestone Fast Six slot when he got caught out by too much understeer on the Firestone alternate tires and his Q1 laps left him only 19th and 15th on the grids, respectively.

Then there were lowly grid slots at Mid-Ohio, when he was sent out of pitlane in front of a rival and was penalized for blocking Helio Castroneves’ flying lap, and at Toronto, when Kyle Kirkwood spun and crashed ahead of him, bringing out a red flag.

Yet Ruzewski says that Power’s on-screen demeanor, playing down his adversities, has not been just for show.

“Privately, Will’s even more calm than he’s shown, probably even more calm than you’ve seen on TV,” said the Penske veteran. “OK, he lost it a little bit after qualifying at Toronto, and that’s understandable – there was literally nothing he could do about that red flag during his hot lap, and he was easily going to be P1 in his group with that lap. But that was probably the only time when I saw him get angry. Oh, and probably Mid-Ohio when he was penalized two fast laps for blocking Helio [Castroneves]. That was on us.

“But he got mad because he’s still human, he still has a huge passion and he’s still hugely quick, and he wants to show that. The thing is, he quickly calms down now because he knows how freakin’ competitive this series is. He knows that he needs everything to be right – the team, the car, himself – to succeed in this series. He knows he’s still at the very top of his game, his speed is still great. That Indy road course pole, his Iowa poles… they show that he’s right there. And his race craft is probably better than it’s ever been, and in part that’s because of his mental approach. When qualifying hasn’t gone well, he’s just dug even deeper on race day.

Power currently leads the championship with one win and nine other top-four finishes, which leaves him a mere six points ahead of Scott Dixon in the championship with three rounds to go. But Ruzewski, who watched Power finish as runner-up in the championship on four occasions, says he hasn’t had to restrain his driver on race days and focus on gathering points.

“I’ve always reminded people that you can win five or six races and not win a championship, particularly when we were up against Dario [Franchitti, four-time champion],” he said. “But 10 or 11 years ago, when Will was fighting Dario, there were fewer players, fewer drivers that were going to be a threat [for the title] by the final round.

“These days the field, in terms of drivers and teams, is so good and so close, and the ‘big’ points hauls are distributed between so many people, that if you finish in the top five every week, you’re going to win the championship by a landslide. It’s that kind of consistency that we’re aiming for. Will’s average finish so far is 6.4 and if he was 5.0 he’d have a big lead right now.

“So are there places where we wish we’d let him off the leash and not focus on the big picture? I don’t think so. There were more places where he thought of it as a win to get a top three or top four after a bad qualifying session. Detroit was super-satisfying, of course, because we won. Mid-Ohio was super-satisfying, given that we’d messed up in qualifying, so to see him climb from the back to finish third was fantastic.

“The Indy road course [second race]… that podium wasn’t just a rabbit out of a hat. We qualified on the second row so we had reasonably fast cars, but he got in that Turn 1 mess, and then keeping away from a wild maneuver from another driver sent Will to near the back… Getting back from that to finish third was about all of us working together – the strategy, the driver, and the pit crew being fantastic, like it has been all year.

“Road America – OK there was a lost opportunity, no doubt, and we got hit by another car. In Toronto we had a much better car than a 15th place represents. Indy was what it was, and in Nashville we had at least a podium car until it was crippled by someone hitting us up the back.

“So I think what has held us back has been mostly circumstances, as opposed to us not going for it because we were thinking about championship implications.”

Ruzewski was keen to emphasize the interaction and effort made by all three strands of the IndyCar team, so that Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin are all in contention for the 2022 title with three rounds to go.

“The work ethic between our drivers and their engineers can’t be understated,” he said. “At this level you have to put in the work. Scotty’s put in the work – that’s obvious from his progress this year – Josef has always done it and Will has always done it, too… and he’s probably doing it at a new level now.

"Dave [Faustino, Power’s race engineer] and Ben [Bretzman, McLaughlin’s race engineer, formerly Simon Pagenaud’s race engineer] have been here for a while and work well together, and Eric [Leichtle, Newgarden’s engineer since Gavin Ward departed for Arrow McLaren SP last year] has fitted in well. The combined efforts between those guys and the whole team have been paying off this year, so I hope we can take full advantage of that and get the championship nailed down.”

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