Cars Motorsport Voices

From the Darling Downs to the Brickyard

It’s an awfully long way from the short tracks of the Darling Downs to the Brickyard.

How many Indy 500 champions started out in motorsport driving a Datsun around Morgan Park and Carnell Raceway?

The answer is now: one.

The fact that Will Power won the Indy 500 is a victory for talent over money, a rare feat in modern motorsport.

For mine, it gives hope to everyone, from the most entry level steerer right on through the ranks – if you have the ability, the drive, the passion, and the work ethic, you can achieve anything.

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The Powers are a motor racing family, Will’s father Bob Power has been behind the wheel since the black and white days, and the fact that he is still out there competing in Formula Ford is a tribute to his continued passion for the sport.

While the family have the money to go racing, they did not have the finances to bankroll an international career.

Yes, there were backers in the background along the way who made it possible for Will to continue his climb up the ladder, motor racing isn’t free, they were involved to simply support a genuine talent.

Will made the step up from the short track to Formula Ford in 1997, and straight away he showed his capabilities in outdated equipment.

The first time I saw him in action was at Lakeside for the support races to the Australian Touring Car Championship in March 1998.

In those days, there were a hardcore group of racers who would follow the Australian Formula Ford Championship nationally, with the field typically bolstered around the country by local competitors.

It was always a chance for the home town heroes to shine against the best in the business – think Garth Tander at Barbagallo Raceway.

Driving the family’s 1992 model Swift, Will wound up sixth in the final race that particular weekend on the high speed circuit, beating home a host of drivers who went on to carve long professional careers.

Fast forward to 1999 and the debut event at Queensland Raceway, where there was arguably no home track advantage to be had, still behind the wheel of the aging Swift, Will finished the weekend in fifth.

Stepping up to national competition full-time, albeit in his family-run privateer outfit, Will went on to finish second to Will Davison in the title, who was aboard the gun Mick Ritter prepared equipment.

At the end of 2001, Will received a call up to race in the Young Guns support races to the Indycars on the Gold Coast, with the weekend resulting in a win and a second, ahead of future aces such as Whincup, Canto, Youlden and Winterbottom.

The 2002 season saw Will demolish the Formula Holden field, and he would have claimed the Formula 3 title as well had he not missed the opening rounds.

That season culminated in a call up from Mark Larkham to co-drive at the Queensland 500 and the Bathurst 1000.

Larko has an eye for talent and knew a good thing when he saw it.

No doubt Will could have carved a career locally, but bigger things awaited overseas.

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The tour through the ranks of Europe wasn’t easy, but a Formula 1 test drive, victories in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and second place in the first ever A1 GP event showed that this softly spoken bloke from Toowoomba was capable.

Following the call up to Champ Car in 2005, the American dream was at times frustrating.

Sure, there was success, his pole positions at Surfers Paradise and three wins in the closing days of Champ Car, including the last ever event for the series on the streets of Long Beach.

Will’s greatest opportunity came with a partial schedule for Penske in 2009, victory followed in only his fifth event for the team.

His seventh race for the squad was a non-start, the break of a lifetime was on put on hold with the breaking of bones following an almighty shunt at Sonoma.

The next three seasons provided 13 wins, and a hattrick of agonising second place finishes in the season standings.

Finally, finally he took that Indycar title in 2014.

Including the Indy 500, Will now has 34 Indycar / Champ Car victories, which places him equal eighth on the all-time win chart with Al Unser Jr. The Al Unser Jr.

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It’s been cool over the years to initially report on Will’s exploits, and then watch from afar as he gone from success to success.

What’s better, he’s gotten there on talent.

WORDS & IMAGES: Mark Walker