Insight Richard Craill August 23, 2022 (Comments off) (165)

COMMENT: 21 years on, the ‘Battle of the Wills’ still resonates

JUST a few days’ from now will mark 21 years since the deciding moments in the epic 2001 Australian Formula Ford Championship battle between Wills’ Davison and Power.

It’s appropriate timing for such a milestone anniversary; last weekend a pertinent reminder that both drivers continue to flex their respective muscles at the very top of their respective trades, on both sides of the Pacific.

Though the championship would actually finish in December that season, it was the August 25-26, 2001 round at Queensland Raceway that would ultimately settle the year-long stoush that the media dubbed; ‘The battle of the Wills’.

It was a remarkable season, one that saw the Queensland privateer Power win the first two rounds before the Valvoline-backed Davison began to flex his muscle later in the year before ultimately taking the title.

Their slipstreaming, wheel-to-wheel battles throughout the year were memorable at the time and have gone on to highlight everything good about Formula Ford since then.

Though their respective careers would take divergent paths, it’s remarkable how the pair have continued to mirror each other along the journey, beyond their Formula Ford stoushes that were a highlight of the 2001 season.

They both plied their trade in Formula Fords here. They both tested a Minardi Formula One car at the same time. They both had dreams of Grand Prix stardom but instead each found something else, potentially with more longevity and more potential for success.

At 39, Will Davison remains at the very peak of his long Supercars Championship career and won for the second time in the 2022 season last weekend at Sandown. He’s ahead of his highly regarded and much younger teammate in the championship and is the only driver to have beaten Shane van Gisbergen at anything this year – he’s got more pole positions than not just the flying Kiwi, but everyone else.

And then there’s Will Power, who at 41 years young leads the IndyCar Championship with two races to go. At the weekend he equalled the great Mario Andretti at the top of the all-time pole winners list for US open wheel racing and will almost certainly beat that record before his career is over. Power led much of the early running in the IndyCar race in St Louis last weekend and with the final two rounds coming on fast and flowing road courses – essentially his M.O – he’s the narrow favourite to claim a second IndyCar title this year.

The remarkable longevity of both drivers is a testament to their respective drive, commitment and ability, of course, but also their ongoing efforts to adapt to the changing environment around them in a bid to remain relevant.

This year marks Power’s 17th full-time season in top-flight US Open Wheel racing, one that started at the end of the Champ Car era, evolved through the post-merger, oval track and pack racing filled Dallara IR05 seasons and then into the DW12, which in itself has seen significant change over a decade of racing.

As Power was making his full-time IndyCar debut with Team Australia, so too was Davison joining the Supercars circus for the first time as he lined up with Dick Johnson Racing in the same year.

Much like Power, it took Davison time to establish himself but it wasn’t long before he too became a regular contender. Through Supercars’ different eras – Blueprint, COTF, Gen II and next year Gen III – he’s been competitive in them all.

Both battled hurdles; Power through injury, Davison through being at the right team at the wrong time, but both overcame them to find success again.

Davison’s ability to reinvent himself has been a hallmark of his career and has happened on several occasions. In 2011 he rebounded with Ford Performance Racing following an excruciating year with HRT the season prior. His shift to Tekno in 2016 came following two hard years driving the challenging Mercedes at Erebus and delivered him a second Bathurst crown and more recently, his move to Dick Johnson Racing proved the saviour after 23Red shut its doors during the Pandemic.

On every occasion he rebounded stronger and returned to the top step of the podium.

It’s much the same for Power; the early setbacks of the injuries sustained in his Sonoma Crash, the questions as to whether he’d still have a drive at Penske when Helio Castroneves was cleared of his tax evasion charges were all potential contenders to end his career.

Even a rough 2021 season, where he finished 9th in the championship, had people calling time on his career; it was the first time since his partial 2009 season that Power had finished outside the top five in the championship.

And yet here we are twelve months later: Power leading the championship, leading his hotshot younger Penske teammates and one of the more feisty IndyCar grids in years while looking for title number two.

By the end of 2022 there’s a very real chance Will Power could be the IndyCar champion once again.

And while a championship win might be a tough ask on this side of the ocean, Will Davison could absolutely add a third Bathurst 1000 victory to his already impressive pair of wins on the Mountain.

Most people who watched the ‘Battle of the Will’s’ in 2001 had a pretty good indication that both drivers would go on to big things – they were just too good to not make something of their racing talents.

They started as young rivals, became mates and took very different paths in their respective careers.

The ‘Battle of the Wills’ set the tone for two immensely high-achieving careers in our sport that has earned each the respect and admiration of many – and both look like they’re not anywhere near slowing down yet.

21 years on, the ‘Battle of the Wills’ continues to deliver.

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