May 25, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT
They’re the two drivers who battled down to the wire for last year’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship. One’s come out firing to start 2013, and the other has been struck by bad luck in three of four races.
Yet going into tomorrow’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power (pictured) are almost entirely under-the-radar. Something about that is not quite right.
Hunter-Reay’s comeback to capture his first title a year ago didn’t generate near the buzz on the national level that it could have. Meanwhile Power, long regarded as IndyCar’s master of the road and street course domain, has had results this year that are hardly Penske material (only one top-15 finish in four races).
They start sixth and seventh – Power ahead of Hunter-Reay – and while neither is really a favorite, they are both due a good result at Indianapolis after struggling since both of their rookie years. They both know the magnitude of what a win tomorrow could do for either of their careers.
“You can’t put a price tag on it,” Hunter-Reay said during media day on Thursday. “You grow up watching and discover this is where heroes are made. The guy who wins might as well have a ‘Superman’ cape on.”
Power added about winning here, “I think it’ll always be big. I just think it becomes a tradition for people to come here. It’s more than about the race. People come here to have a good time.”
In Friday’s final practice, Hunter-Reay was third fastest and Power was 15th. Hunter-Reay has collaborated with the rest of the Andretti Autosport team to simulate race runs with all five of their cars. It sounds easy on paper, but actually pulling it off has been more challenging than expected.
“It sounds easy but getting five different programs together at once, at the same time, is so hard,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “Everyone always has different agendas, and people are all over the board. That has really helped us.”
Power feels confident in the grip levels on a cooler track for race day, as ambient temperatures are projected in the mid-to-high 60s. The last few years, the race has been in the 90s.
“You’re just adjusting to be as it was when it hot,” Power said. “You adjust to keep the consistent downforce level. The cooler it is, the thicker the air, the more it sucks to the ground and it gets more grip.”
Keys to success on Sunday include placing yourself in the right spot at the right time, and playing the tow effect to the maximum.
“There should be a massive tow, because these cars punch a huge hole in the air,” Hunter-Reay said. “Nobody can break away. I don’t foresee a guy taking off in the distance.”
Power, more succinctly, says at this stage of the month, you know what you have and have to take it from there.
“You know what you’ve got at this point for sure because you’ve been running all month,” he said. “I guess you base your confidence at this time on that.”
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