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POWER CAPTURES VERIZON INDY CAR TITLE
Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo by Brady Whitesel
Photo by Brady Whitesel
September 15th 2014 -      WEST BEND, WISCONSIN September 1, 2014:     Will Power knew all to well what is was like to lose an IndyCar series championship, being the runner-up in 2010, 2011 and 2012, now he knows the feeling of being the champion!

     The usually hard charging Power drove steady consistent races at the Grand Prix of Sonoma on August 24th and the season ending MAVTV500 at Fontana, California on August 30th to claim that elusive IndyCar season title.

     Driving the car sponsored by series backer Verizon, Power also broke the drought for Team Penske handing owner Roger Penske his first series title since 2006, the 13th in the illustrious history of the potent IndyCar team and organization.

     2014 was a watershed year for Penske that saw all three of his drivers win races and finish first, second and fourth in the final standings setting the stage for many more titles to come.  Helio Castroneves finished second in the standings 62 points behind his teammate after heading into the final event 51 points in arrears.  Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth in the final standings for Penske 85 points behind.

     2013 IndyCar champion, Scott Dixon broke up the potent Penske group, winning at Sonoma and finishing second at Fontana to move into third place at the end of the season 67 behind the champion.

     Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi team changed motor affiliations for 2014 after spending many years with Honda the team spent the two thirds of the season getting acclimated with the Chevrolet engine and with Dixon’s win at Mid Ohio in the 14th race of the year and then coming back to win at Sonoma while teammate Tony Kanaan took the Fontana MAVTV 500 it looks as though the team has mastered the switch and should be a factor when the 2015 season rolls along to challenge the Penske juggernaut.

     Dixon passed Mike Conway on lap 83 of the 85 lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma as the race played out as a fuel event with Conway  running out of fuel on the final lap coasting to a 14th place finish.

     Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indianapolis 500 champion, finished second followed by Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato and Montoya.

     Castroneves finished 18th in the 22 car field after two on track incidents placed him far back in the running order on each occurrence.  Castroneves entered the race 40 points behind and his deficit grew to 51 heading into Fontana.

     Castroneves, Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and Dixon, after Sonoma, were the drivers that had a shot at Power going into the final but actually it was Castroneves and Pagenaud as the only ones with a real chance. Despite the fact that the MAVTV 500 will pay double champion points being a 500 mile event both Hunter-Reay and Dixon will be eliminated once Power qualifies for the race.

     “This is just big for our team,” said Dixon following the Sonoma race.  “It was tough because there were so many fuel strategies going on and they all turned out to be slightly off.  I didn’t know who could make and who couldn’t.  This is a momentum building race win for our team.”

     Power, who won the pole for the Sonoma race, led the first 16 and the again 16 more laps into the race spun on lap 40 that cost him many positions but he steadily worked his way back up to 10th and with Castroneves woes he gained points in his title march.

     Despite a terrible Friday night practice crash that saw rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin flip his car wildly after contact with Dixon and Charlie Kimball that literally split the car in two sending the Russian born driver to the hospital with fractured ribs, a broken right Clavicle, chest injuries and a concussion the rest of the weekend at Fontana went off without major incident.

     Castroneves and Pagenaud did what they had to do in qualifying with Castroneves winning the pole position and both qualifying ahead of Power who struggled in his qualifying attempt but Pagenaud, who crashed his primary car in a Wednesday test at Fontana, was not as comfortable in his back-up finishing a disappointing 20th in the race.

     Kanaan, who replaced Dario Franchitti in the number 10 Target Chip Ganassi racing car this year, was elated with his first win in the series since winning the 2013 Indianapolis 500.  “It’s been a long time coming,” said Kanaan.  “We’ve worked so hard this season to find what works and to finish the year with a win is a tremendous confidence booster.”

     “It’s 15 years of hard work,” said Power with his first title in hand.  “I was crying as I crossed the (finish) line.  It’s surreal.  It’s just a fantastic way to finish the season.  I can’t believe I’m the champion!”

     Power, who won the season opener and who won three times during the season to go along with four pole position wins, was either first or second in the standings all season long, the mark of consistency that was lacking in years past.  Perhaps losing titles by being involved in crashes in the season finale altered his approach tonight but he was able to avoid any problems to come away with a confidence boosting title.

     “Tonight showed very one the strength of our team,” said Roger Penske.  “The ‘monkey’ is now off his (Power’s) back.  He knows he can do it the title possibilities’ are endless for him now.”

     Castroneves led 41 laps at Fontana, buts saw his hopes for that elusive first series title go away on lap 218 when he was assessed a drive-through penalty for a pit lane entry violation that put him a lap down and he was never able to recover that deficit as the race went green for 238 of the 250 laps with only one caution the entire distance.

     “It’s another second,” said Castroneves in reference to his previous title chases.  “But well done Will!  It stings a little bit, but it motivates me to come back stronger next year and finally win a championship.”

     Ed Carpenter, Montoya, James Hinchcliffe, Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Carlos Munoz, Power and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top 10 at Fontana.

     Power picked up a one million dollar bonus for winning the title.  Castroneves earned $250,000 for second in the standings.  Dixon won $90,000 for third.  Montoya, $75,000 for fourth; Pagenaud, $60,000 for fifth; Hunter-Reay, $50,000 for sixth; Kanaan, $40,000 for seventh; Munoz, $35,000 for eighth; Marco Andretti, $25,000 for ninth; and Sebastien Bourdais, $15,000 for tenth rounded out the bonus paying positions at seasons end.

     With the win Kanaan became the 11th different winner in an IndyCar race this year which tied the single-season record set in 2000 and matched in 2001.  11 different winners in 18 races show just how competitive the series is week in and week out.

     Briscoe, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Kimball, Justin Wilson, Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth, Sato, Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas finished 11th through 20th in the seasons final standings.

     The series now heads into a nearly seven month off season as 2014 was designed to finish ahead of the NFL season to avoid battling with them for press and fan attention and 2015 looks to be no different with the season set to open tentatively in Brazil in early March or Florida in late March.

     Although the 2015 schedule is not official a new race has been added in Avondale, Louisiana in April to replace the Houston race that went off the schedule for 2015.  The Fontana race will move to June to avoid the horrendous temperatures incurred this year and every August for that matter in California.

     It is hoped that an 18 race schedule will be once again attained and Milwaukee has a chance at hosting the pentulamate event, which would be a real feather in its cap to have the title decided in Milwaukee late August or early September in 2015.

     When the schedule is announced, I will post it at once.

     Still too early to report on any team changes but it is rumored that Pagenaud will move from Schmidt Peterson Racing to Andretti Autosport as that organization is planning on running five cars in 2015 after deciding not to field entries in the Indy Lights series, thus giving them personnel and space to handle a fifth Verizon Indy Car team.

     Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing have merged their one car teams for 2014.  Both will operate out of the new and spacious Fisher Hartman shops in Speedway, Indiana.  Carpenter raced Chevrolet, Fisher Hartman Honda so the new entitle will most likely go with Chevrolet following Carpenter’s success with that engines manufacturer.  Carpenter won once in 2014 while his team driver Mike Conway won twice in a unique arrangement that saw Carpenter drive the car on the ovals and Conway on the road and Street courses, an arrangement that is set to continue in 2015.

     The Indianapolis 500 seems a long way off and it will be a while for any news to come out but hopefully both the series and the 500 can add to car counts in the coming season that will feature the introduction of the new “aero” packages that should make the cars faster and provide some differences in car appearances versus the type of package used by each team.  Testing on the new packages is set to begin in March of 2015.

    Keep watching here for schedule and team announcements as they come out.