Days after winning his first IndyCar season championship, and the morning after celebrating his victory on Letterman, Australian race car driver Will Power walks into the Andaz 5th Avenue freshly showered in a grey henley, jeans, and laceless Chuck Taylors. More importantly, Will Power is smiling, maybe for the first time in a while. Earlier in the season, sitting in his trailer at Pocono Raceway while leading the series by only a few points, Power was tense and quiet. Not impolite, but uninterested in pre-race chit-chat, let alone discussing how he was hoping or planning to win the series so early in the season.
"The best possible mental way to think about the lead is not to think about it at this point. You just have to put it out of your mind and focus on the job at hand," Power, 33, explained while wolfing down a lean lunch minutes before walking to the starting grid in July. "You can't think about it. You just can't. You've just got to go and race. It will be what it will be."
Three times the Team Penske driver had "all but wrapped up" the season series heading into the last few races, and three times seemingly minor moments – a fueling mistake in 2010, a crash in the pits with Ana Beatriz in 2011, an overly aggressive maneuver against Ryan Hunter-Reay late in 2012 – derailed years of work at the last second.
"It's just unbelievable that those things happened. This one is great, but you think about the ones that got away," he admits. "Three championships to me that were just easy to have. Right there. Could have gone one way or the other, but one little, tiny thing changed."
But with the victory finally under his belt, Power walks a bit more upright today.
"I’m sleeping well. Really relaxed," he says. "During the season, everything you do, every single bit of food, every thing I eat is in my head: 'Is this good for fitness, weight, everything?' Just constant pressure to be as fit and as healthy as I can be. Now I notice little things. Even ordering breakfast, it doesn’t matter what I get. It doesn’t matter if I put on some weight."
Power says now that the burden has been lifted, some of the motivation may disappear. He'll have "a bit more calmness" about him, and it's always harder to defend your title. But, he adds, "just to know that you can win. That you can do it. There's confidence in that. I think after explaining all that history to you I can feel my intensity coming back. Now I want to win to make up for those three. It’s in my personality."
He'll head back to Australia soon, to relax with his wife and ski with his father, race a super car against a jet at an airport's opening, and eat whatever the hell he wants. Then he'll start running and working on his core strength to get his stamina back for the season, because the days of the overweight driver smoking in the pits are long gone. "Each Sunday is like a bloody triathlon. You’ll just be better, you’ll be faster, if you’re fit. You just will be." You have to be strong, he says, or the races will destroy you and the other drivers will fly right by.
"The competition is so good right now because of parity," he says. "You turn up now and 22 of the 22 drivers have a chance of winning. That’s never been the case. Now it is. Eleven different winners in a year is amazing. I can say for sure that we had an advantage in 2010. You're just wide open on a wide line. Anyone can do it. It required less talent and more balls and bravery, and that’s not racing to me. It was more satisfying doing it this way.
"It’s good to lose those championships to know how good this one feels."
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