IZOD IndyCar Series championship contenders met with the media ahead of this weekend's season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that will decide the title race.
Q: It's the second straight year it's come down to the two of you for the championship. Does the vibe feel any different this year? Is there anything there, any sort of feel, or is it similar to last year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'd say it's very similar to last season, really. You know, I think in the middle of the season there was certainly more – I think there was a little more tension there with some of the stuff that went on, but at this point it feels very, very similar to me.
I see Will and the Penske boys as very, very difficult opponents, and that was the same last year. It's no different now. But our job is to go out and to beat them this Sunday.
WILL POWER: I think the biggest difference for me this year is just I'm a lot further along on ovals. I feel as though every time I go into a weekend I have a chance of winning them. Obviously, we're coming from behind this time, but, at the end of the day, I feel as though we've done everything as a team to prepare for this race. I think that we're in very good shape.
Obviously, no one knows what the outcome is, but we know that we've put everything into it this year, and hopefully we can come away with a win.
Q: Right out of the gate this year, starting at St. Petersburg, you two have been the story, ratcheted way up in Toronto, of course. Dario, when you're on the track in Las Vegas, is the No. 12 going to be the singular thing on your mind – where the No. 12 car is? Will, same question to you. The No. 10 car, where it is on the track, is that going to be pretty much your sole focus on Sunday?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it was proved at Kentucky again I'm not just racing Will and Will's not just racing me here. There's 34 cars this weekend on the grid at Vegas, and any one of them can create a problem or go out there and just flat-out beat us. At this point, I'm racing the whole field, as I always have. That's the way we'll be looking at things this weekend.
WILL POWER: Yeah, the situation we're in, our job is simple. We need to win the race. Whatever else happens is totally out of our control. So we're just focused on doing that and also getting the other two up there as well because, at the end of the day, if we finish one, two, three as a team, we win the championship.
Q: There's a lot of 1.5-mile tracks that IndyCars competed on. This is the first time this particular configuration has gone to Vegas. I know 1.5‑mile tracks are all different, but is there a way to maybe compare this? Is there anything this track reminds you of, say a Texas or some of the other 1.5 milers you've been on?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I would say this one is probably more Chicago‑like than Texas. I haven't actually run there in IndyCar. I've run there in the Sprint Cup and also the Nationwide Car. But I would say more Chicago than Texas.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it is. I think that's what it's going to be. I have a feeling this track is going to be easy, easy flat, which makes it very much a pack race. Also, with where it is, because the atmospheric pressure, we lose a bit of horsepower as well, something like 40 or so horsepower. So that makes it even more like a pack race. So to me it's going to be Chicagoland.
Q: You guys have had a lot of little tiffs this year, and you've expressed how much you respect each other. Can you talk a little bit about whether you actually like each other.
WILL POWER: No, we don't. (Laughter)
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's a tough one because we're in this fight. I think, regardless of if we get on, I think this year has definitely tested it on several occasions. Because we're in the middle of this fight, I don't think we can really think like that. We're out there to beat each other. I'm certainly out there to beat Will and to beat the whole Penske organization as much as I admire and respect and, in a lot of cases, like the guys on the team. I'm still – my job is to go out there and win and to do that for the Target organization, and that's very much what we're focused on.
WILL POWER: I'm sure, if we weren't competing against each other, that we would be friends, good friends. You just can't be friends with someone that you so fiercely compete with. It's impossible. It is for me, anyway. I respect him on the track, and we're friendly off the track in a way, and that's just how it's always going to be. It's just the way it is when you're competing against someone.
I had an instance with a teammate in 2007, [Simon] Pagenaud, and we just fiercely – we hated each other. We didn't even talk in the truck, but now we're best of friends now that we don't compete against each other. That's just the way this sport is.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think to put it in a historical context maybe, a lot of the guys I've competed with fiercely over the years, from Zanardi, Vasser, Montoya, all these type of guys, when one of them stops racing or you stop competing, then I think you become friends, and it's happened in a lot of cases because I think, when you go through these things and you fight as hard as this, I think it does create some sort of bond. But, obviously, not right now. Right now we're out there, and we're fighting as hard as we can.
Q: Dario, you're sort of reaching some rare company now in championships, and you're doing what Jimmie Johnson-type thing in NASCAR. Did you ever imagine that the possibility was there to win four titles and perhaps go on to win three or four Indy 500s?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think with the three we've won right now, I've always felt we had the capability to do it, but having the capability to do it and actually getting it done are two different things. So, very, very proud of the achievement of the championships and the Indianapolis 500s. As far as right now, I'm really just focused on this weekend and trying to make it four.
The whole organization, the Target team is very much of a similar thing. All the stuff that was done in the past, that's fun and everything, but this is about trying to get the job done this weekend.
Q: Will, has Roger gotten with you in the last few days to just discuss the weekend and the importance and perhaps what he expects from you?
WILL POWER: No, he hasn't. I think we all know what we've got to do. He doesn't have to tell us. That's what we're all employed to do. I'll see him on the race weekend.
Q: When do you start doing the math in your heads? Dario, when do you figure out you really don't have to win the race to win the championship? Will, you talk about you need to win the race, but that may not be enough….
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's what the guys on the stand are for. I'll leave that to them. I'll just drive the car and do very much what I'm told. I think the easiest way to do it is to head out there and try to win the race. If we can do that, it would definitely take care of everything else. I am definitely glad at this point. I don't have to find those points that I did last year. Definitely, I think it puts us in a stronger position.
WILL POWER: Yeah, to us, it's very obvious what we have to do. Like Dario said, the guys on the stands will be watching the whole time. Obviously, if Dario gets taken out somewhere in the pack or something like that happens, they will be letting me know exactly where I need to finish.
But the safest place in these races is out front. In these pack races, if you're at the front, you're in the best possible spot.
Q: Are either of you concerned at all that with so many cars entered for this race, that the championship could end up being decided by some kind of incident on the track involving a lapped car or maybe some run‑in on pit road, something similar to what happened to Will with Ana Beatriz [at Kentucky].
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think, if you look at the season as a whole, we've both had incidents like that as the season's gone on. It's part of racing. You just accept that. The fact that we have 34 cars will make it more difficult if we do get shuffled to the back, but it's all part of the game and part of what we've got to deal with this weekend.
In a lot of ways it's great. It shows the health of the series. But it definitely makes the job a little more difficult.
WILL POWER: The number of cars can either help you or hurt you. In my situation, I kind of like the idea. We've got 34 cars, but it's just like you saw in Kentucky, anything can happen at any time. That's the beauty of the sport, too. You don't know – it's not over till it's over.
I had a car in Kentucky that, even if we didn't get the gas on the side, I'm sure I could have driven all the way back to the front. In one way, it gives you a lot of hope that we can still pull this thing off.
Q: There's no question the tension is ratcheted up as we've gotten closer and closer to this Las Vegas conclusion. During this week or even since the checkered flag in Kentucky, has this duel become almost all-consuming, a 24/7 thing that you guys think about all the time? Or do you just try and keep the normal routine? How does it work in your mind as you get closer and closer to going to Las Vegas?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: This is obviously not the first time we've been involved in this situation, myself or my team. But for me the whole season – in some ways it's fortunate, but in other ways it's unfortunate. For me, the season is all-consuming. Whether it's the first race, the fifth race, the last race, it really makes no difference. I do think about the last race, the upcoming race. I do think about those a great deal during the year.
WILL POWER: Actually, I've never been so relaxed. I don't know why. I guess it's because we've put in all the hard work the last couple of weeks with the car. We've done everything we can think of. We've done everything to the cars now also. To me, I haven't thought about it much. I've just gone about my fitness regime, and I've never felt so relaxed going into a race.
It's funny. I sometimes think, “Should I be more tense?” I feel very relaxed and confident, actually.
Q: Will, Dario seemed to indicate that he's feeling some confidence because he's got 18 points as opposed to just a few points on you. You're feeling better about your ovals, but in some sports they say the guy who wants it the most wins. Is that at all true in car racing?
WILL POWER: Absolutely. I think it is. Over a whole season, it's usually the team and the driver who's worked the hardest who wins. You work as hard, or sometimes, I think, harder in this sport than anywhere else. As a driver, you've got to be unbelievably fit, and you've got to be very intelligent about how the car's setup and the direction of development goes. So it's the team and the engineers. To me, the harder you work, the more chance you have of winning.
Q: So is there anything going into this race that gives you more confidence than you might have had last year, or is that just asking too much?
WILL POWER: I can say that we've done more this year, definitely, than we did last year at this point. Last year, the three ovals before the last race, we actually had an edge. We were faster. We had chances to win. Where this year we felt that we weren't strong enough on the ovals. So for the last two, after the test in Kentucky, I just said, “Hey, the car is just not good enough. We've got to change our philosophy here.”
We went away and had a good think about it. So I would say that the boys have done everything. We've put everything that we can into this. I feel as though that's the difference from this year to last year.
Q: Will, you just mentioned that the team has really done a rethink about the oval setup and how you approach the ovals. But how much has your comfort level and your development as a driver on the ovals helped you guys close the gap in terms of ovals to Dario and Target Chip Ganassi Racing?
WILL POWER: I would say just my understanding of the setup, understanding what the car needs, and it takes time to get that because oval weekends are very short. You don't get to test in this series. So as you go through all these different items and understand what they do to the car and how they make the car feel and what it does to the speed of the car, that takes a long time.
It's just like a bank that's continually building up with me. Kentucky was another big step because we got the test there, and it gave me a very good idea of a direction that we needed to go. But Vegas is another story. It's a very different circuit.
Q: Dario, is there any chance that you could take anything for granted on Sunday?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I don't think so. You've got to be on your guard the whole time. You've got to do the same job as you would any other race, and you can't let your concentration drop for a second. Myself, the guys in the pit stops, the guys doing the strategy, you've got to operate at least to the same high standard as you would normally do. And if you can find a little extra, it's all good.
Q: Dan Wheldon will be coming hard from the back, obviously, to win a lot of money. But who else out there really stands a good chance of winning this race if either of you don't?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think look at most of the entry list, really. You've got to look at my teammates with Scott and Graham and Charlie. Will's teammates with Helio and Ryan. Ed Carpenter, who won in Kentucky. Dan. That's just some of them. Tony Kanaan, you can never count out. There's a good list of probably 10 or 15 cars that could make life very difficult on Sunday.
WILL POWER: Yeah, that's the beauty of it. Being a pack race, there's so many different people with potential to win and be out in front, which is very good for us. We need as many competitive cars as possible. You go through that list, there's a lot of guys there with good cars.
Q: Being that you guys have been through these scenarios the last few years coming down to the final race, anything that you both have learned from the last few years where it's come down to this final race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There's a couple of things, but I'll keep those to myself.
WILL POWER: I think the key is you just cannot give up till the very, very last lap. I mean, that's the way this sport is. That's one thing. At end of the day, if you've done everything you can preparation‑wise, there's nothing more you can do, and that's what we have done.
Q: Considering that this is probably the most advertised and promoted race of the season so far with maybe the exception of the Indy 500, what are you looking forward to most about having the World Championships in Las Vegas?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the IndyCar Series has put a tremendous effort behind us with a lot of focus on really giving the fans as much access and things to do over the whole weekend, whether it's the cars going down the strip or the interaction on Saturday with the Fan Zone. So I think the series has done a really good job with that. That's one side of it.
On the track for me, it doesn't matter whether it's Vegas, Chicago, or Homestead. I think it's all the same. When you get to the track, it doesn't really matter where it is.
WILL POWER: It's certainly the best place to have it. It's an unbelievable city. Hope to see a big crowd there. With all the promotion and everything, I think there should be.
Q: This race is going to be the final race of the current IndyCar chassis. The chassis has been around for almost a decade now. Just wanted to get your final thoughts on the IndyCar chassis as a whole, how it worked for you guys, and just how much you're looking forward to the new generation of machine in 2012.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think all the drivers who have spoken about it are looking forward to moving up to a new car that's a bit more nimble, a bit more powerful. Just something a bit different, something for the engineers to get their teeth into it a bit as well. But I have to say this car has been a great servant for the IndyCar Series, if you like. It's really helped in the tough economy to keep things going, and it's been good to me. Three championships, two 500s, and I'm not sure how many race wins I've had with this combination. So in a lot of ways, I'll be sad to see it go – but really excited about the direction things have taken.
WILL POWER: I'm very, very excited about the new car. I think it's going to be a fun car to drive. One thing I liked about this current car was that it was very difficult to drive. So I think it puts some of the driver into it, especially on the road and street courses. It wasn't the easiest machine to set up. I think that sort of separates the good drivers a bit from the not so good.