The Willpower Of Will Power Vaults Driver To Championship Lead At Motegi
It was just a few short races ago when all looked as if the IZOD IndyCar Series championship was coming down to a one-man race to re-crown Dario Franchitti as its best driver for a fourth time ... third time in a row.
Penske Racing's Will Power lost the title on the last race of the season last year after leading the points race most of the year ... but was unable to maintain the lead when ever he had to race on an oval track.
Nearly out of reach of a surging series points leader Dario Franchitti a little over a month ago, Power not only has erased a 62-point deficit in only four races (New Hampshire - oval, Sonoma - road, Baltimore - street, and Motegi - road/normally oval), he used his focus and will power to vault to the top spot by 11 points with two oval races to go (Kentucky and the season closer at Las Vegas).
Say what one will, but the season for Will Power comes down to one thing, has he learned to win on an oval enough to out pace his chief nemesis, Dario Franchitti?
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon as he leads Will Power through the track overpass section on the road course at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Image Credit: IZOD IndyCar Series
This excerpted and edited from Sports Illustrated -
Not so fast: Dixon makes it 3-way race for title
Just when it looked like Dario Franchitti and Will Power would run away from the field in the race for the IndyCar championship, Scott Dixon got back in the mix with a win at the Indy Japan 300.
Dixon's victory in the last IndyCar event to be held in Japan moved the Target Chip Ganassi driver to within 59 points of Power with two races to go.
Power and Franchitti (48 points ahead) still have a large advantage, but Dixon, who won the championship in 2003 and 2008, isn't about to concede anything just yet.
"Dario and Will have both had strong seasons, but we have been creeping up and staying within striking distance,'' Dixon said. "I think sometimes that gets overlooked. We want this to be a three-horse race for sure.''
It wouldn't be the first time a driver came from third place to win the championship with two races to go. Sam Hornish Jr. was third with two races left in 2002 and went on to win the championship, winning the last two events.
Dixon is hoping for a similar scenario this year.
"Hopefully everyone will continue to focus on those other two and we can sneak in under the radar and get to the front in these final two races,'' Dixon said. "The Target cars have been strong on ovals this season and we're looking forward to finishing 2011 on a high note."
While Dixon's win in Japan kept his title hopes alive, it was who finished second and eighth at Motegi that threw the championship race wide open.
Franchitti went into the race with a slim five-point lead over Power. But a poor qualifying effort put the No. 10 Ganassi Racing Dallara on the fifth row. The Scotsman's chances of holding onto the points lead took a major hit when he made contact with the right-rear of Ryan Briscoe's Team Penske car entering Turn 1 on the 26th lap.
Race officials levied an avoidable contact penalty on the reigning series champion, sending him to the rear of the field before he worked his way back to finish eighth.
"It was a stupid move on my part," said Franchitti. "I did a lot of hard work to get from ninth to fifth, and I'd been saving fuel the whole first stint. I thought there was a gap and Ryan was going wide on the entry and that was that."
Power, who started from the front row, couldn't catch Dixon but was able to do the next best thing by finishing ahead of Franchitti.
"I just need to keep finishing in front of (Franchitti) the rest of the way and we'll be fine," Power said. "We'll keep chipping away like we have been."
The last two races of the season are on 1.5-mile ovals. Franchitti has two wins on ovals this season compared to one for Power. But the Australian driver, who is bidding for his first championship, is confident about his chances at the last two tracks.
"Ovals, that's what I enjoy the most racing, mile-and-a-half racing, Chicagoland last year, Texas this year," Power said. "Even Kentucky last year we were really strong, just didn't end up with the result. We're pretty focused on that this year."
Franchitti held a 47-point advantage before Power won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 28, and the gap narrowed further at the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 4, where Power captured the pole and led for 70 of 75 laps in a runaway victory.
Whatever happens at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2, Dixon figures the championship will come down to the last race in Las Vegas on Oct. 16.
"The championship, I think going back to every year since 2006, has been decided in the last race so I don't think it's fair to count anyone out until the last lap of the season," Dixon said.
Ok, fine ... for fan interest, we'll just say it's a three-man race - RIGHT! It becomes a three-man race when Franchitti and Power take each other out ... of BOTH races.
Just as it was in 2010 for the Verizon Penske Racing driver, does Will Power have the willpower to stick it to Dario Franchitti and finish ahead in the points on oval tracks? The ChampCar World Series faithful believe this is the year he can.
Motegi By The Numbers - highlights:
6 – Finishing position for Sebastien Bourdais, who finished sixth for the fourth time in the past six races.
7 – Consecutive races led by Will Power, who led the only one lap not led by Scott Dixon at Motegi.
12 - Positions gained by JR Hildebrand, Danica Patrick and Simona De Silversto, who finished seventh, 11th and 14, respectively, most of any driver in the field.
14 – Points separating Sunoco Rookie of the Year point leader JR Hildebrand (284) and James Hinchcliffe (270) with two races remaining.
49 -- Consecutive races running at the finish for Danica Patrick, extending her series record.
147 -- Consecutive starts for Tony Kanaan.
1,903 – Laps completed (of 1,911) by fifth-place finisher Oriol Servia, most of any driver this season.
Uncountable -- Autograph requests of Takuma Sato over the race weekend.
... notes from The EDJE
[Article first published as The Willpower Of Will Power Vaults Driver To Championship Lead At Motegi on Technorati]