By NICHOLAS DETTMANN
Lately, Will Power has started to make Wisconsin his personal playground.
The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion put together another dominating performance on a Wisconsin race track June 26, this time in the first IndyCar race at the famed 4-mile road course since 2007, leading 46 of 50 laps en route to the victory in the Kohler Grand Prix.
Power was never passed on the race track. The only two times he relinquished the lead was during green-flag pit stops.
“You had to look after your tires,” Power said. “So it was not a matter of … obviously I could have gone a lot faster at the beginning of the stint but then you’d struggle at the end. So I really tried to maximize the whole stint, like never really lean on it or slide, which is the fast way anyway.
“I was just very particular about that because I knew that that would be a factor. And as the track rubbered up, I started to be pretty quick at the end of stints.”
He insisted it wasn’t as easy as it looked and he wasn’t teasing anyone.
“No, not at the end there with (Tony Kanaan),” Power said. “That was everything I had because he had reds (tires), new reds, and he was coming fast. But I’d saved push-to-pass for that reason because I knew if there’s a late restart, you want to have a lot of push-to-pass because it’s such a huge gain here.”
Will Power leads Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan through Turn 7 during the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Kohler Grand Prix on June 26 at Road America in Elkhart Lake. (Nicholas Dettmann photo)
Kanaan finished second and Graham Rahal was third to round-out the podium. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five.
“I thought we had a car to fight for the win,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion. “But in the last lap when they told me (Power) had three push-to-passes and I had to use to hold Graham up, I’m like, ‘I’m toast.’”
The race was caution-free until there were 10 laps to go when Conor Daly spun in Turn 1 and crashed into the tire barrier.
“You always dread that late restart, but I thought I’m going to make the absolute most of it and do the best I can and try to get a jump,” Power said. “I knew I had push-to-pass in hand, which I thought before the race is going to be key here, to keep that for the end, and that’s what I did.”
In 2014, Power led 229 of 250 laps at the Milwaukee Mile en route to the season championship.
“That was also one of my most satisfying wins,” Power said. “That was in 2014, and that started my run to win the championship.
“Same here. I screamed on the radio when I won the race here because I was so excited. I was just so … like just all weekend, I wanted to get pole, I wanted to win the race, and I did it.”
This year, the series won’t return to the nation’s longest-running race track. There are doubts it will go back.
“It’s a pity we’re not going to the Milwaukee Mile,” Power said.
Is it the end for IndyCar at The Mile?
“It’s a tough call,” Kanaan said. “But I think one thing, in my opinion, it’s people can come here and camp all weekend long. They can see all the race track. They don’t have to … you don’t to go in the grandstand and watch the race if you don’t want to. You can see it in your camper, on the top of your camper and watch. So this becomes a family weekend.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Rahal said. “For me, I lived it firsthand. For me to come here as a kid and spend time with dad and just be here for the whole weekend, it’s the same thing that makes Mid-Ohio awesome. It’s the atmosphere. It’s coming for an event.”
For Power, it was his second straight victory as he continues his surge up the championship points standing. He had a maximum point weekend, while Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, the top-two in the points going into the weekend, struggled.
In two races, Power catapulted from 12th to third in the championship, 83 points behind Pagenaud.
“If you look at the points situation, obviously things can change so quickly,” Power said. “You look at the last race, there can be something like an 80- or 90-point swing if the guy you’re racing has a bad day and you win.
“You know, and then you’ve got seven more races. It’s just so many points left and so much to happen.”
It was a struggle to get to this point, though.
Power’s offseason was slowed because of several health issues, including food allergies. A stickler for fitness, the issues threw off his training program and his diet.
Then, on top of that, he missed the first race of the season at St. Petersburg because of a concussion suffered in a practice crash.
“It’s finally back to my normal fitness level, and just the way I do things,” Power said. “Obviously the start of the year was tough for me. I couldn’t train in the offseason.”
He added, “There was a point in the season where I just felt like I couldn’t use my talent, when you don’t quite have the energy to do it, but now I do. So you start getting into the flow of things and feel like you’re a challenge every weekend to win.”
Power has inched back into the championship with consistency. He has six top-10 finishes in eight starts this season.
His season started April 2 at Phoenix and finished third. He followed that up with a seventh-place finish at Long Beach and a fourth-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I haven’t changed anything the way I exercise,” Power said. “It’s just being able to do it, and then having car fitness.”
(This article appeared in the July 2016 issue of Full Throttle magazine.)