CHEVROLET RACING IN NTT INDYCAR SERIES
FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG
STREETS OF ST. PETERSBURG, FL
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
FEBRUARY 22, 2022

WILL POWER, NO. 12 VERIZON 5G TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, was the guest on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES ZOOM conference with motorsports media.

Full transcript:

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Great to see everyone here today. As you know, it’s race week for the NTT INDYCAR Series. Sunday the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete presented by RP Funding.

Our guest today know a thing or two about winning at St. Pete. Joining us, Will Power, who will be in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet. Power won at St. Pete back in 2014, but also a remarkable nine-time pole winner on the street layout, and it is great to have Will with us.

THE MODERATOR: Will, the wait is over. How much do you look forward to going back to St. Pete for the opener?

WILL POWER: Yeah, very much looking forward to it. I’ve been training very hard in the off-season. I reckon the team has found some pretty good stuff, so has Chevy, so it’s a track I love.
I didn’t have a very good qualifying there last year, so looking to make it to that Firestone Fast Six and more so looking to contend for the win.

THE MODERATOR: I’m assuming that is a treasured item behind you; is that the St. Pete surfboard you’ve got there?

WILL POWER: Yes, it is. It’s right there. I want to get another one. Helio has got three of them, if you can believe it. And he’s got four 500s. Just between them, three of them and four 500s. He’s still going, still going. It’s unbelievable, man.

Q. Obviously you’ve been in this a long time, still competing, eyeing records, Will the all-time pole record in the NTT

INDYCAR Series, do you ever get nostalgic about the way your career has gone and continued to go?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I look back on my career and I just feel so blessed and lucky to have had a career in INDYCAR and have been successful. And to be with the team, with Penske for this long, yeah, I look back and feel like, man, it’s just very, very fortunate.
And also to have raced and been teammates with guys like Helio who will be regarded as one of the all-time greats, four Indy 500 wins, and he taught me a lot. I always say it, when he left Penske, he was the quickest I had ever seen him.
When I first came there I was very fast, and Helio kept getting quicker and quicker and quicker and I couldn’t match him when he was at his best. Yep, cool for him to be back full time. I think it’s great at his age. I think that is just so awesome that he’s still performing at this level.

THE MODERATOR: Man, I just heard the phrase “at his age” about Helio. Just sayin’.

WILL POWER: I think it’s great for anyone in their 40s. If Helio is still as fast as he is, I have zero, he, no excuses, no excuses.

Q. To be able to start the season the week after the Daytona 500, it kind of adds a little momentum for the INDYCAR start because the two big races in the same state separated a week apart. What do you think of having it like that from here on out?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I didn’t even — yeah, okay. Yeah, usually we’re a week or two later than this.

Q. Sometimes even later.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it’s good. I think now that NASCAR and INDYCAR has collaborated a little bit with the INDYCAR road course race, there’s a little bit of crossover there with the fans.
Hopefully that brings more viewers and more spectators to the track. Yeah, it’s good for motorsport as a whole. The more popular motorsport becomes, the better it is for all of us, not matter the series.
Yep, hoping to see a full crowd there, full capacity. It’s been a couple years. I think it’ll be a great weekend.

Q. Will, obviously you’ve been extremely successful at St. Pete. What do you put that down to?

WILL POWER: Yeah, you can never put it down to just one thing. I’d say there’s been — I’ve raced there in many different styles of cars, as INDYCAR has evolved and changed over the years. The setups have been quite different. It’s a technical track, but you know, it’s like any other track. You’ve got to get all the little bits right, all the sectors right, and obviously the setup right. Then it’s up to you to put the lap together.
Yeah, I think that track I’ve had more poles there than any other track, so there might be something to just — flows well for me there that those happen. Like Indianapolis for Helio, just seems to flow well for him. But, yeah, I can’t really say there’s one particular thing that makes me quick there.

WILL POWER: I was going to say to you I can’t believe — Helio has been up on me and he’s about to get the pole, and I get him always in Turn 10. I don’t know what it is. I did that to Newgarden, as well, got him by 100th. Last year I didn’t see the exit wall and I bent the toe link and I crashed over the finish line. I tried to get it flat and it was all wobbly and I it spun, so it finally got me.

Q. I know you think very highly of INDYCAR and you believe it’s one of the strongest series in the world. It’s at this weird place right now where it’s growing and it’s bigger and European drivers want to come to INDYCAR. But at the same time, Herta and O’Ward want to go to F1. What is INDYCAR right now to you guys? When you look at the series, where do you think it stacks up?

WILL POWER: Yeah, you know, obviously Formula 1 is the pinnacle when you look at the level of money and television coverage around the world that it has. So if you’re a young driver, it’s somewhere you would love to go and have experienced that series.
But as far as competing and competition and parity, there’s no other open wheel series in the world like INDYCAR. It is more competitive than Formula 1, not because the drivers are better but simply because the cars are all exactly the same. You’ve got so many drivers and teams that have been around for so long in these same cars that it is really, really tough.
You don’t even have to take my word for that. Just look at the practice sheets and the qualifying times. You can mathematically work that out yourself, that INDYCAR is more competitive than Formula 1.
Formula 1 you compete possibly just against one person, which is your teammate, but maybe this year they have more parity. The drivers are not — I’m not saying that INDYCAR drivers are better. That’s not true. I’m just saying that the formula is more competitive, and I think the formula is better for fans, honestly. You never know who’s going to win.
However, because of the different styles of tracks, with ovals, with short ovals, with street courses, you definitely blend so many different talents, and you can still have, as we have today, drivers just not going for one style of racing.
You create more competition, create more buzz, and yes, that’s why INDYCAR has continued going on the right direction.
Now, with Penske Corp taking care of the series, hopefully now with the pandemic just passed over, I do believe INDYCAR can concentrate to becoming what it used to be 30 years ago, 30, 40 years ago.

Q. Will, it seems like over the last few years you’ve really come on strong the middle to the end of the season, and you’ve always felt that if you had a strong start to the season you’d be more of a championship contender. Is that your mindset going into this weekend, is you have to fire off on the season really, really well?

WILL POWER: Yeah, I was like that last year, as well. Yes, very focused on the beginning of the season. I have to say I feel like I’m fitter than I was last year. I feel — like I said before, I think the team has done some good development.
I think Chevy has found some good stuff, as well, on the drivability side. We’ll see. I’m maximum effort. Every race counts for the same amount of points. But that is true, for whatever reason we have struggled early in the season.
Not last year. I guess we had a couple of good results early on and then it wasn’t that special. But, yeah, can’t really — we’ve looked at every reason why that is. I feel like I’ve got a very good crew. I’ve got all the stuff, all the tools available to start really strong, and, yeah, be a contender from the beginning.

Q. Why do you feel like you’re more fit than you’ve ever been? Did you change something up over the off-season? Are you doing a different workout routine?

WILL POWER: Yeah, well, slightly different, yes. You know, obviously the science is changing all the time and there’s new ways, better ways, more efficient ways to work out.
Definitely stronger and fitter than I have been. I wouldn’t say ever. I’ve been pretty high at some times, but right there. I’m stronger for sure and just as fit.

Q. The last three years, the winner of the season opener has gone on to win the championship. Do you feel like — one, why is that, and do you think that that can be the same case again this year, that our winner this weekend could eventually be the champion?

WILL POWER: Yeah, I reckon what happens is that you don’t — for one, you’re way more focused because you’re leading the championship and you’re focused on not making a mistake instead of focused on trying to win.
I think that’s some of the psychology behind it, is that you’re not trying to claw back. You set a pretty good base, boom, you’ve got big points and you adjust, nicely maintaining those points instead of desperately trying to claw back to get back in the game.
I reckon that’s some of the reason that that happens.

Q. The new marketing campaign target fans not just in the Midwest, but seems to challenge fans outside of that market from where I am in New York to Texas. And if you had to let’s say have 15 to 30 seconds to pitch the series to someone that doesn’t know about INDYCAR, what would you say and what can fans expect to see in 2022?

WILL POWER: Yeah, you’re not going to find a more competitive racing series in the world. You know, it’s open wheel racing, so they’re purpose-built race cars. We go to tracks like Indianapolis where in qualifying we’re doing 240 miles an hour and 300,000 people will be watching on race day.
We need to get it out there as much as possible because the product is so good and you race on so many different disciplines. You have road courses, street courses, superspeedways, and Bullring short ovals.
You never know who’s going to win, you never know who’s going to be on pole, and you really don’t know who’s going to win the championship until the last race and sometimes the last lap.
It’s a great product, and it has been growing over the last decade. It’s like significantly grown since I started in INDYCAR, and the teams and the drivers are the highest standard that I’ve ever seen.
It’s a great series. It really is. It’s a great series, and I hope that we continue to push to get it out to the public.

Q. Will, what do you think about the situation that befell you’re your compatriot Oscar Piastri? Year after year this guy became the F2 and F3 champion and still didn’t get to Formula 1. Wouldn’t it be better for Europeans if Oscar was in an INDYCAR this season?

WILL POWER: Yeah, I think I understand your question. Yeah, Oscar Piastri certainly deserved to be in Formula 1 this year having won back-to-back titles in Formula 3, then F2 first year out as a rookie.
And then not to be in Formula 1, to me the system is sort of broken. Why? Why do they spend all this money to run something like F2 and you win the championship the first year, and I’m going to say the budget for that has got to be 2 million Euros or something like this, and not get a Formula 1 seat?
I think he deserves to be in Formula 1. He should be in Formula 1. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to come over to INDYCAR, because he’s worked his whole career. I’d have to say I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t get a ride.
So we’ll see what happens. It’s a total travesty if he doesn’t end up in Formula 1 next year because then he’ll probably won’t ever end up in Formula 1, which is just such a shame.

Q. What have you and Team Penske learned from the race in Detroit last year?

WILL POWER: I heard Detroit, so it must have had something to do with the car not starting. Yeah, that was massively disappointing. I so badly wanted to win that. It was such a hot day, too, so I would have got to go dive in that fountain.
It would have been perfect. I don’t want to win on a cold day where you’ve got to get in the fountain. I want to win on a hot, hot day like that. Had I won, man, five to go, I mean, Ah, how bad is that?

Q. We have a Chevy driver here. How do you think the engine competition is going to play out this season? Do you feel it in general depends on the type of tracks? Have you in the Chevy camp found something?

WILL POWER: Yeah, it’s definitely — I would say it’s very close. Very, very close. Yes, we have definitely improved our engine on the drivability side, there’s no question. We certainly have more tools at our disposal in that respect.
Very close. Very, very close. I mean, we’ve seen Honda be a bit better at some of the tighter street courses, but obviously in qualifying at Indy, a Honda has been better recently. But it’s very close. No one has a big advantage. It’s pretty good.
It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be definitely a big battle again this year, Chevy against Honda. That’s why it’s become so competitive, the series, because even the best scenario, INDYCAR makes sure that everybody is running really, really close and it comes up to the teams, it comes up to the drivers in the end, and that’s why it’s competitive.

Q. Will, your reflection on Penske culture?

WILL POWER: Yeah, it starts from the top down. You see the way Roger runs his corporation, the business, any business that he’s in, and like he always says, it’s human capital. It’s the people that you invest in. He always has a very good team at the top, and that filters all the way down through the whole organization to really anyone doing anything within the shop.
Great people preparing the cars. You’ve got great people doing development behind the scenes, and you’re expected to win. Roger expects the team to win. That’s why last year was so disappointing on the INDYCAR side, because we did win but we didn’t win enough, and we weren’t competitive enough at Indianapolis.
Certainly went into this last off-season really, really digging deep, and the whole team looked at everything and has done some great development.
Hopefully that translates on to the track. It’s a super competitive series and environment right now, so you can never know. But Roger expects all of us on the INDYCAR side to be contending for a championship.

Q. It was March 13, 2020, when this race got shut down because of COVID. At that time I think there was like five cases in Hillsboro County and there was a lot of panic back then. At that particular time only the die-hards knew who Alex Palou was and Jimmie Johnson was a NASCAR driver. Here we are two years later, Jimmie Johnson is an INDYCAR driver, Alex Palou is an INDYCAR champion. Talk about how different the world is today in INDYCAR than it was at this point two years ago before the shutdown.

WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, it’s not really — I would say it’s only got more competitive. I mean, yeah, obviously Palou is a champion. No one knew who he was in 2020, and Jimmie Johnson is running full-time in INDYCAR, even doing the ovals. Yeah, things changed very quickly.
But as far as the competition and the teams, it’s pretty similar. Everyone has had this car for quite a while, and they’ve developed it to the nth degree. That’s why you’re seeing these ridiculously close qualifying sessions and a different winner every week and different pole sitter every week. Yeah, it’s making a very interesting series.

Q. Are you amazed in spite of the pandemic that INDYCAR flourished both on track and financially?

WILL POWER: I reckon you couldn’t really name — well, you could name more than 10 drivers almost. You could almost name 10 guys that you would say would be a contender for the championship, so it’s anyone’s guess really.
You know Newgarden will be up there. You know that Palou coming in for his third year will be up there. Herta, Rossi, the two McLaren drivers, the Rahal drivers, the Shank drivers. There’s so many good guys now, it’s really, really, really hard to pick.

THE MODERATOR: One of the best in St. Pete. Hopefully that continues this weekend. Thank you so much for your time.