FONTANA, Calif. — It’s more than the $1 million carrot that drives IZOD IndyCar Series heavyweights Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay entering Saturday’s MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championships at Auto Club Speedway.
“The approach is the same every weekend. You go into the race to win it,” said championship front-runner Will Power. “When you look at the overall season, you are going to have your ups and downs. It’s the downers that you need to make the most of — those days where it’s just not looking good, but you get like a sixth place or something is what makes up a strong championship.
“At the end of the day, it’s always making the most out of every situation. That’s going to be the case on (Sept. 15) as well.”
After 14 races, more than 1,700 laps and 3,000 miles of intense competition, Power leads Hunter-Reay by 17 points heading into the title-deciding race on the two-mile oval. The champion will collect a cool $1 million bonus.
“It’s going to be obviously a tough race, 500 miles. We just focus on the job that we have to do to execute on the day,” Power said. “The rest will work itself out. Either we’ll be champion or we won’t.”
Power’s pragmatic approach is propagated from experience the past two seasons when he had a points advantage over Dario Franchitti with one race remaining only to have it slip away. The long, hard campaigns have bred a more steely competitor.
“I think just naturally the more experience you get, the more knowledge you have about situations, how to react in certain situations, and probably become a better, more experienced driver,” Power said. “I would say I’ve improved for sure over the last two years, but I don’t think my approach is very different.”
There are a myriad of scenarios for both drivers to earn their first series title. At its core, if Power finishes ahead of Hunter-Reay he claims the booty. The prospects don’t discourage Hunter-Reay, whose previous best championship finish is seventh the past two seasons.
“(The pressure is) on both of us, for sure,” said Hunter-Reay, who drives the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car. “We have the biggest trophy in the sport on the line, and the championship is what you’re always after.
“I definitely like the position we’re in, chasing. We’ve been doing that for most of the year. I think we’ve been getting better at it. We need to go out and focus on winning. That’s really what it’s going to be about. The race that we have in the first 250 is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It’s going to be changing the entire time.
“We have to go out there and do what we know how to do, and that’s contend for race wins.”
Hunter-Reay has four Indy car victories on ovals, including two in a row this season (Iowa and Milwaukee). Power’s lone oval win came at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in June 2011.
“When it comes to one race, I don’t think there’s any advantage to it at all,” Hunter-Reay added. “This is one race. I look at it from the standpoint, just like I looked at Baltimore: we have to win to get ourselves there. It’s pretty straightforward for me.”