It’s a long way from Toowomba to standing in Victory Lane at Indianapolis with Roger Penske but Will Power’s journey had more twists and turns than his beloved Bathhurst circuit.
He went from an introverted kid with talent but little confidence to the fastest road racer in IndyCar who despised ovals to a veteran that finally started to enjoy his life in the fast lane.
Yet after all his wins (34), pole positions (51) and laps led (3,627) during the past 13 years, Power produced the result that counted most on Sunday – for him, his owner, his sponsor and his career.
“We all know what Indy means to Roger and when you see all those Baby Borgs at the shop and all those pictures on the wall of the guys who have won, you know I’ve been looking at them quite a while,” said the 37-year-old Australian. “And now it’s going to be pretty cool to walk in and see myself up there.”
Power admitted he never imagined having an open-wheel job in America, let alone winning the biggest race in the world.
“I never dreamed of doing this and I never thought I’d be driving for Roger Penske,” admitted the 2014 IndyCar champion who joined Team Penske as a part-timer in 2009 and won in his fifth start.
“I never thought I’d be a professional race driver but it’s all I ever wanted to do for as long as I can remember.”
The first domino to fall to get Power to North America came in 2005 when Derrick Walker was looking for a driver for his Champ Car team.
“We had the Team Australia concept and the first guy we had wasn’t cutting it. I’d heard about Will in GP2 so I called Trevor Carlin [his team manager in that series] and he didn’t have anything lined up for Will past that season,” recalled Walker.
“So I flew him to Portland for a test and he was quick. Rob Edwards, my team manager at the time, agreed this kid had talent so we ran him at Surfers Paradise and Mexico City and signed him up for 2006.”
Winless in ’06, Power scored two wins in 2007 before Champ Car merged with the Indy Racing League in 2008. Walker’s team disbanded so Willy P. went with KV Racing and won Long Beach but really struggled on the ovals and despised Indianapolis.
“I remember listening to him complain on the scanner in 2008 and I didn’t like him much because he hated this place,” said Ed Carpenter, who battled Power last Sunday and finished second after leading the most laps from his pole position. “Somewhere along the line we became friends and kind of bonded since I’m an oval guy and he likes to think of himself as an oval guy.
“I know how hard he worked to figure out how to be better on ovals because he flat out didn’t like them at first. He turned his weakness into a strength and he’ll make a great champion.”
Power’s weakness at turning left cost him a couple of championships but acknowledges it’s a different ball game today.
“I feel like every time we go to an oval I have a chance to win and that definitely wasn’t the feeling in the beginning of my career,” he continued. “I would always think it’s going to suck and I never thought I could win.
“I would race ovals every week now because I’m so experienced at it and I enjoy it – and I’ve become good at it.”
Walker, who suggested to Penske that he hire Power after Team Australia folded and also touted engineer David Faustino to The Captain, proudly watched his protégé from the IMS suites.
“I knew he could do it – it was only a matter of time,” said Walker, who also gave Power’s crew chief Jon Bouslog his first job. “It’s refreshing because Will is such a natural, genuine guy and racing is the love of his life.
“He’s a little bit more complicated than some but his natural pace and focus is second to none. And winning Indy has released all that pressure.”
Nobody in IndyCar is probably more misunderstood than Power. He’s a good guy with a wry sense of humor that comes off as boorish and gets criticized for his lack of emotion. But it’s been a long time since any winner showed more emotion than Power last Sunday and it was genuine.
“I’m not supposed to eat dairy but I didn’t care, I was drinking the milk,” he exclaimed after accidentally dousing the 500 Festival Queen. “I’ve never been so excited and I was just screaming that whole last lap because I knew I’d finally done it.”
W.P. admits his attitude adjustment coincides with fatherhood.
“I use to be a negative guy but being positive is so much better,” said the father of Beau whose wife, Liz, was his PR rep with Walker. “And I’ve got a great family and lot to be positive about. Especially after today.”
Power’s timing was impeccable. With Verizon set to bow out as IndyCar’s title sponsor, his triumph may convince them to stick around as his sponsor for a few more years. He also completed Chevrolet’s impressive month with a convenient victory headed to Detroit.
But with teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud capturing the past two championships, his 2018 season off to a rocky start and rumors that The Captain is looking at Robert Wickens or Alexander Rossi, Willy P. likely needed this win for job security.
“Definitely good for that,” he said with a grin. “Surely they’re going to have me back.”