The downtown streets that double as the course for the Grand Prix of Baltimore have provided IndyCar driver Will Power with bittersweet memories over the first two years of the event.
In the race's inaugural running in 2011, Power started on the pole and led for 70 of the 75 laps en route to his sixth victory of the season.
"It was not that straightforward; it was one of my best wins that I'll always remember," Power recalled Monday during a publicity tour in Baltimore for next month's race. "I think it was with 10 laps [left], we had to pull a gap enough [going] in the pit to keep the lead [coming out], and I actually did it. It was also the first win I had before all the Verizon guys who support me [as a sponsor]."
If his first race in Baltimore ended in celebration and professional satisfaction, Power's return trip was shrouded in disappointment and a bit of second-guessing of race officials. Hoping for a result that would secure an elusive season-long championship, Power decided to change tires during and after a brief downpour, a move that affected his position.
Ultimately, what cost Power the most was Ryan Hunter-Reay's somewhat controversial quick restart toward the end of the race that helped him pass Ryan Briscoe to win. A combination of Hunter-Reay's victory and Power's sixth-place finish caused the 32-year-old Australian to narrowly lose the championship to Hunter-Reay.
It was the third straight year Power finished second overall.
Nearly a year later, the way things ended on Pratt Street still seem to bother Power.
"The last restart, [Hunter-Reay] just went — there was no penalty. I had never seen anything like that in racing, and that won him the championship," Power said. "It does bother me. It bothers me that he didn't get a penalty. It has actually bothered me about race controls — there's so much inconsistency about restarts. You don't want to be a whiner, but that won him the championship there."
Power made it clear that his issue is not with Hunter-Reay but with the rules governing restarts. Power said Scott Dixon had the same thing happen to him in Toronto recently.
"He should have done what he did because he was trailing in the championship and needed to win the race," Power said of Hunter-Reay, who won the series title by four points. "I didn't agree with the call [of not penalizing Hunter-Reay]. I thought there should have been a penalty because he went before the race leader [Briscoe] went at the green flag."
Unless he wins Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, where he finished second last year, Power will return to Baltimore in the midst of the longest time without a win in his six-year career on the IndyCar circuit. Since winning the Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil last year, Power has gone 24 races without a victory. He had won 14 times in the previous 39 starts.
"Racing is an absolute team sport," Power said. "You can have the best car and be the best driver on the day, and then something unforetold can happen, that's just racing. I believe that everyone gets their fair share of good and bad luck — that's just how it goes. This year, we've just had a bad season. We haven't lacked pace; it's not like we're qualifying last. It always comes back around if you work hard."
Penske Racing team president Tim Cindric said Monday night that Power shouldn't shoulder all the blame.
"As a team we haven't executed in some areas," Cindric said. "I felt like every race he's gone to, I felt like we've had the opportunity to win. In some cases we haven't executed in the pits, and in some cases things haven't worked out on the race track."
But Cindric, who oversees the strategy for the team's races, said Power has improved his performance on ovals and has not allowed his lack of podiums (one, for a third place in Milwaukee) to affect his relationship with teammate Helio Castroneves, the current points leader. Power stands 10th overall in points.
"I really don't see him forcing himself for wins," Cindric said of Power. "I don't think there's a desperation at this point. I actually think he's been more resilient than I would have expected if you would have told me he'd be having the season he's having. I think he's shown some good maturity in some stages, and he's shown to be a team player relative to Helio. Will's acknowledged that without the jealousy that comes from some drivers."
Yet Power conceded that this 14-month stretch without a victory has chipped away at his confidence.
"When you've won multiple races in a year, you kind of learn how to win. I think the expectation of winning helps your confidence," Power said. "You really expect to win. When you have a long stretch without winning, it starts eating away a little at your confidence at how to win a race and you start saying, 'What do I need to do to get solid results?'
"Really, at the end of the day you just need to focus at the job at hand and keep all that stuff out of it because it's the result of putting all that together perfectly and focusing on that rather than 'I haven't won for a while or I expect to win the race.' Just go through the process and put yourself in the he best position to win ... and get the results I should get with the team and car I have."