On his visit to Northern California, the IndyCar driver with the greatest name in motor sports took a little detour for lunch in Sacramento.
“From Napa to here, it reminded me of the road from Brisbane to Toowoomba in Australia,” Will Power said as he compared his trek to the one leading to his hometown in Queensland. “Exactly the same. The gum trees (eucalyptus) are just like Australia. I like it. It’s a lot like home.”
The popular Australian already feels at home in the Napa-Sonoma wine country; he’s favored to add to his dominant IndyCar record at Sonoma Raceway in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
No one has won as many IndyCar races at Sonoma as Power, the defending champion and winner of three of the last four Sonoma Grand Prix races. And his Penske team has won five of the nine IndyCar races at the famed Sears Point road course.
But Sonoma hasn’t been all champagne and smiles for Power. In 2009, he crashed in blind Turn 3, fracturing two vertebrae and suffering a concussion.
“People keep bringing up 2009,” he said with a smile. “I don’t.”
Power, a three-time runner-up in the IndyCar title race, is closing in on his first series championship. He leads Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, the 2008 Sonoma winner, by 39 points with two races to go. The season wraps up Aug. 30 at Fontana.
Power, 33, has won three races in this compressed season. (Last year’s schedule had four races after Sonoma and the season finale on Oct. 19.)
“I like the new schedule,” he said. “Get it done, then get six months off. I’m looking forward to vacation. I’m going home to Australia for a little bit.”
But first, Power has two racing weekends in the No. 12. Here’s what to expect:
Your closest competition is your teammate Helio. Has there been any title trash talk?
There’s been no conversation at all about points with my teammate. We just go about our jobs.
Is this IndyCar’s most competitive season?
Absolutely. Every weekend, you don’t know who’s going to win. Watching motor sports on TV, what could be better? As a competitor, it’s great fun. Think about it; every weekend you have a chance. You can’t say that in other series.
With its 12 turns, Sonoma has a reputation as a very physical race course – especially in hot weather. How tough is it?
It is physical, but one thing that makes it a little easier (is) the air is not humid. It cools you well. When we race in Florida or Houston, you’re almost dying in the car. It’s so hot.
It can get hot here (at Sonoma). Sitting in the car before the race, you think, oh, my God, it’s going to be so-o-o hot. But once you get racing, the air dissipates that heat so quickly, while in Houston, it’s like a sauna in the car the whole race.
It also can get windy in Sonoma.
Wind is a big deal. It’s amazing at this track in particular. It’s huge. ... With a headwind, you definitely get more grip. These cars have 5,000 pounds of down force; you wouldn’t think a 15-mph wind would make that much difference, but it really does. The car only weighs 1,600 pounds. When it’s windy, you feel like you’re driving upside down. These cars are so aerodynamically sensitive, you want a perfectly still wind to flow over the car nicely.
What’s your secret to Sonoma?
It’s kind of funny. There are some tracks that, even when you’re having a bad day or don’t have that great a car, you can still be in position to win. Except for 2009 – that was a very bad day. I can’t put my finger on it except that I enjoy the track. It’s a road course. … I’ve always been competitive on road courses.
What would a championship mean to you?
It would be everything. It would be the culmination of everything I’ve done on (the) track for pretty much the last 15 years.
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.