ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Will Power insisted Friday he is ready to begin his IndyCar title defense this weekend even as his wife battles a serious staph infection.
Liz Power was hospitalized in January and underwent back surgery to clean the infection from her spine. Ahead of the first practice of the season, the Australian revealed they made two 911 calls this week because of her health, and Liz was hospitalized overnight Monday.
She’s unable to travel at least until May — Power described her as “somewhat bedridden” — so he will open the season Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg without his family. The couple’s 6-year-old son, Beau, remained in North Carolina with his mother.
“Seeing Liz struggle sucks. It really does,” Power said. “She’s someone that’s always up and going. It sucks having her not be at the race. I know how much she loves it, and I love having her here and Beau here. It’s lonely.”
Power said doctors are optimistic about the progress of her healing spine but the infection must be controlled.
“It’s going slowly, but it’s headed in the right direction,” he said
Despite the concerns, he said he’s ready to open his 18th season and is able to focus on his job from the moment he gets in the car. Power bagged his second title last season, which began with Liz’s prediction that her husband would rebound from one of the worst years of his career.
“We’ve had friends stay over, and I’ve done my same routine, all the same prep work I would normally do,” Power said. “I’ve been able to get sleep because we have people there. All that’s been good. Still, leaving home without them, it’s sad. You’ve got FaceTime and all that stuff, and I’m calling multiple times in the day, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Power, who turned 42 this week, is in a contract year with Team Penske. Two years ago at this race, he revealed he’d signed a two-year extension, and said Friday his future with the team “is all in my hands.”
He has said he’d like to race until he’s 45.
“We’re all good and sorted,” he said. “I’m set beyond this year. I know what’s going on after this year.”
It was a strong opening day for Andretti Autosport, which had a rough time last season with only two victories among its four drivers.
“I feel like Andretti has definitely made steps in the right direction. But everyone made steps in the right direction, but maybe us more than others,” said Kyle Kirkwood, who won an Indy Lights title for Andretti but spent his rookie IndyCar season driving for A.J. Foyt Racing and returned to the organization this season.
“Andretti’s performance last year didn’t show what their actual capability has been, and I think we are showing it now,’ he said.
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was fastest in Friday’s only practice, followed by Andretti driver Colton Herta, who won this race from the pole in 2021 by leading all but three of the 100 laps. Kirkwood was fourth fastest, Romain Grosjean was 14th and Devlin DeFrancesco was 16th.
David Malukas was seventh fastest on Friday for Dale Coyne Racing in a continuation of late-season progress shown last year by both the driver and the tiny team.
Malukas, who was the highest-finishing rookie in the Indianapolis 500, scored a career-best second-place finish late last season.
“Going off of where we finished last year, I think both the team and I developed very well. I think going into this season is kind of right where we left off,” Malukas said. “We thought maybe there’s going to be something because we had a big change around with mechanics and engineers. We thought that was going to be an issue.
“Coming into this first weekend, everything went smooth, everything went well. The car is as I remember from street courses. There’s a lot to find in many different places but we’re in a much better position than we were last year. We had time to create a plan and organize everything. With that organization, I think we’ll be able to take it that next step.
Chip Ganassi has signed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato to drive at both Texas Motor Speedway later this month and the 500 in May.
The Japanese driver could get the remaining three ovals on the IndyCar schedule depending on sponsorship — he’s sharing the car with rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand — but Ganassi said if money isn’t found for that trio of races he could simply not run the car.
Ganassi also said he’s been so impressed by Armstrong in preseason testing that he’d consider running the 22-year-old on ovals.
“I want to temper my enthusiasm, he’s not doing all the races, but if he’s not careful, he might find himself in more races,” Ganassi said.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports