He was already a Verizon IndyCar Series champion when he strapped into his car for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 last weekend. He’d just given Team Penske, in their 10th season as his employer, its 200th overall IndyCar win in the Indianapolis road course round earlier in the month. His 33 race victories were in the top 10 all time, and his wins on 18 different tracks were in the top five. He even holds the unique honor of the final Champ Car World Series victory, having won the 2008 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Then Will Power checked off the last open box on the list of big accomplishments for an open-wheel driver in America: he won at Indy.
Not only did he become the first Australian driver to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, he also became the first driver to ever sweep the IndyCar Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 in the same month of May. And it’s that perfect month that now gives him a two-point lead over Alexander Rossi coming into this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, the only doubleheader weekend on the IndyCar calendar.
Much has been made of Power’s hard work to improve his oval prowess over the years, and rightfully so. It’s proof that, no matter what your background is, or how long you’ve been racing, the best drivers in the world can still find a way to keep advancing and improving.
As an IndyCar “rookie” in 2008 after CCWS unification, he took only one top five and two top 10s on the circle tracks, compared to four DNFs. Contact at Homestead in 2010 cost him that season’s title, while 2011 and 2012 both saw DNFs at Iowa and finishes of 19th or worse in the final oval events of the season, in the face of only one oval victory (Texas 2011). In contrast, his road and street course prowess remained untouched; he won five races each on the twisties in 2010 and 2011, and added three more in 2012.
But Power finally broke through for his first IndyCar title in 2014, and it was a run of top-10s in all but one oval race (as well as a dominant win in Milwaukee where he led 229 of 250 laps) that helped secure it. Since then, he’s added multiple victories at Pocono, taken his second career victory at Texas, become a consistent podium finisher at Phoenix, and even earned two top-fives in a row at Iowa.
Not bad for the Toowoomba-born formula racer, who had raced an oval a grand total of once in CCWS before open-wheel reunification ten years ago. After all, Formula Ford, Formula 3, and A1GP aren’t exactly known for turning in only one direction.
Power’s personality has always been an interesting contrast with that of his Team Penske teammates, as his dry wit is markedly different from Josef Newgarden’s all-American persona and media savvy, Simon Pagenaud’s clever sense of humor, or Helio Castroneves’ exuberance. But he’s every bit as emotional as the three drivers who raced alongside him at Indianapolis this year, as his passionate in-car radio and the joyous scream and embrace he shared with wife Liz in the winner’s circle undoubtedly proved.
With IndyCar firmly on the rise in the world of motorsport, now is the opportunity for the racing world to get to know Power in a way that they may not have after his first championship season. The post-500 media blitz is a daunting one, but also a great chance for the world to get to know you a little bit better. But as soon as the cars hit the streets of Belle Isle, it’s time to focus again on the task at hand: winning the championship, and becoming the first driver to win both the 500 and the overall title since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012.
It’s a task that Power has always been up for. And now that he’s just as strong on the ovals as he’s always been on the road courses, he’s going to be hard to stop.