PreRace - Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey IndyCar
Will Will Power Power Through?
Will Power of Australia wants to walk away a two-time champion of the series.
By Brian Kennedy & Albert Wong
Sat, Sep 10, 2022 08:52 PM PST
All photos by Albert Wong.
Will Power (featured image) of Australia has high, but reasonable, expectations for this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey IndyCar grand finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: He wants to walk away a two-time Champion of the series.
He’s very likely to do it. He has to finish no lower than third to clinch the title, assuming that his two trailing rivals, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, finish first and second. Should either of them lag, or have a failure, whether mechanical or by contact, Power’s job gets easier.
Power is ahead of his two closest challengers by 20 points apiece. He had gone into Portland last weekend only three up, so this gives Power some breathing room. Also mathematical possibilities to win the title are Marcus Ericsson, down 39 points, and Scott McLaughlin, 41 back. The max number of points anyone can gain in one weekend is 54, so anybody further back than that is already obviously out.
Yet even Ericsson and McLauglin haven’t expressed any real hope of getting the job done given their deficit to Power. No, this is a three-driver race, or Power’s title to lose, depending upon your point of view and how much pressure you want to put on the Aussie. Last year’s title winner, Alex Palou, is not in contention to repeat.
Power has been a bit unsteady through the second half of the season, with five finishes of third or better over the past eight races but also an 11th and 6th to go with one 15th-place run. He has 11 top-five results in the 16 races run so far this year. His win came in the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit back in June.
The year has been a good one for the series. Life was more or less back to normal regarding pandemic issues, and fans came out by the tens of thousands to watch racing on several types of circuits stretching from Florida to California and including a race in Toronto.
For Championship Sunday, the weather promises to be fair, with daytime highs expected in the lower 70s, a nice difference from the sweltering temperatures many Californians have had to endure over the past week or so. That should make for a fairly neutral track, not slippery and not overly grippy. Drivers and crews in IndyCar are constantly making guesses about grip level as they decide which of two formulations of tires to put on for a given stint. The red-sidewall rubber is more adhesive but wears less well than the black-sidewall Goodyear, which is long-lived but doesn’t have super-glue grip. Drivers are required to use each of red and black, though not for extended periods unless they choose to.
This weekend, 26 entrants will race 212.61 miles over 95 laps of the 2.238-mile natural road course. The thrill, of course, is “the corkscrew,” an undulating set of turns that comes with a drastic drop in altitude before the cars take a long downhill sweeper and then make a left onto the front stretch.
It was in the corkscrew that Alex Zanardi made possibly the most famous pass in IndyCar history, at least over the past few decades. That was 1996, and Brian Herta surrendered the lead on the pass, but he made up for it in two succeeding years (1998 and 1999), winning both races. His son, Colton, has now also won the race twice, in 2019 and 2021. The 2020 race was cancelled due to Covid. The race has been the IndyCar season finale since 2019. In 2018 and years prior, Sonoma, CA, was the location where the series wrapped up.
This year’s event is set up by a rather tame and non-dramatic race in the penultimate contest in Portland, won by Aussie Scott McLaughlin, his third win of the season. Power was near the top of the leaderboard all day, coming home second. Much of the race chatter concerned fuel conservation and the timing of pit stops. McLaughlin led the majority of the laps (104 of 110) as a deserving eventual winner.
After that race, talk turned to this weekend’s Championship. Dixon said, "Anything is possible. We’re in it, and we’ll never give up." Newgarden was equally positive, saying, "We’re going to go and try to win that race and go for broke . . . . It’s been a weird year."
In Saturday’s qualifying, Power took the pole, with Dixon 13th and Newgarden 25th, making it even more likely that Power will win the title, if not the race. This was his 68th pole in IndyCar, breaking the record held by the great Mario Andretti.
The Astor Cup is the reward for the season’s champion, and obviously Power wants to hoist it sometime around 3pm Sunday. The race starts at around 11:40 Pacific time.
Other Notes On The Season
Rookies this year include Callum Ilott, David Malukas, and Christian Lundgaard. Each of the latter two had a second-place result at one point in the season.
NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson raced the whole year, braving the ovals for the first time and gaining a fifth-place finish at Texas, but he was mostly a sideshow who tailed the field and spun out a number of times, including a late accident that nearly had an influence on the outcome of the Indy 500. He spun but did not hit anything in Portland on the way to his fifth DNF of the season. To be fair, his non-finish was Rinus Vikay’s fault after that driver smacked Johnson into the wall in the later stages in Portland.
Update! Check out our gallery from the race:
About The Authors
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.
Albert Wong started taking pictures when going to the Can-Am race in Laguna Seca, Questor GP in Ontario and the IROC/ Formula 5000 in Riverside. He began racing go-kart in the junior division “but I never made it to the bigger league…I signed up for a racing school but it was rained out in Indianapolis Raceway Park (and that’s why I’m still walking today).” “I was an Indy driver once since I had an Indiana driver license! My card used to say ‘I’d rather be Racing’ but now has changed to ‘I’d rather be at the Races’.”