Although he's got his car tuned to suit his own style, Power watches other top drivers carefully. Even from TV images, he can take an educated guess at how they're operating, and he highlights Franchitti for special mention when it comes to channeling an Indy car between close, concrete confines.
“Dario's very, very quick on street courses,” Will says. “He's got it down pat, so I always watch him and I can see that he likes the rear of the car to be very solid – no oversteer – so he keeps it very clean, smooth and mistake-free. Dario's usually the guy you've got to beat on street tracks.”
So, Chip Ganassi's reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion is doubtless going to be in the hunt for pole next weekend at St. Petersburg. Although Franchitti has never won in his four starts at the 1.8-mile course around the harbor front, he started all of them from the first two rows, including a pole position in 2006. Even if it's going to be the same drivers in the front-of-pack mix as a week ago, Power knows they're all going to encounter a very different challenge in Florida than in Brazil.
“The track surface is a lot smoother at St. Pete,” he says, “although there are still crowns in the road. But there are also some pretty tight, 90-degree corners. It has more turns than Sao Paulo, but over a much shorter lap. I got the KV Racing car on the front row in 2008, but last year I didn't qualify as well as I wanted to, because I made a little mistake once I got through to the Fast Six. Obviously, this year I want to get back to the front row, at least.”
That isn't just to prove he's quickest. The much shorter straight means it's much harder to pass – obviously an advantage if you're at the front already, but a situation that can leave you stranded if you get stuck behind a group of slower drivers fighting among themselves.
“At the start and on restarts, if you're held back by someone in front making a bad getaway, that can leave you stranded out of that final corner – or even worse, it can mean you're at risk of getting passed by the car behind you. Obviously IndyCar has very strict rules about blocking, so you can't move over to the right [the inside for Turn 1] if someone gets in your tow, and you can't stick to the right all the way down the straight because… Well, if you're able to do that, it means you've had a terrible exit from the last corner! And anyway, your tires will get covered in debris because you're off line.”
Maybe it will all go so smoothly for Power next week so the only cars he has to pass are backmarkers. OK, even for a Penske driver, such a straightforward day would be unusual, but its likelihood has been increased just a little as a result of the Sao Paulo success. As championship leaders, the Verizon branch of the Penske team will be situated at pit-out for St. Petersburg – a bonus that should never be ignored.
“I've never been in that situation before, so I guess I haven't seen how big an advantage it might be,” admits Power, “but obviously during race day pit stops, we can see when all our rivals are coming, so the crew knows when to send me out. I think being there will be a help in practice and qualifying, too, because it means you can choose to be first onto the track each time, so you get a clearer run and don't hit traffic so soon.”
It kind of goes against the grain of real fighters like Power, Kanaan, Wilson and Briscoe to have to save fuel instead of just running flat-out 100 percent of the time on race day, but it's an essential part of success in IndyCar. Make a later pit stop, and usually you're going to save time and gain track position through having a shorter stationary period. But saving fuel without losing track time to your rivals before you pit – that's a trickier proposition.
“That's another difference between Sao Paulo and St. Pete,” agrees Power. “If someone was running faster than you in Brazil, they were going to pass on that long, long back straight. There was no way a fuel-saving guy could hold back someone who was going flat-out and planning to make another stop. But the way this next track is laid out, you can save fuel and still keep everyone behind you. A circuit where it's hard to pass can work for you if you're up front, so…”
He can leave the rest unsaid – that the front is where Will Power's aiming to be. It's not a given he'll be there. There are (thankfully) way too many ace drivers in cars with good street course setups in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Like the man says, it's “ridiculously competitive.” But would you be confident betting against Verizon Team Penske No. 12?