This improbably named Queenslander raced against his father (Bob) in Formula Holden before trying his luck in Europe. Now established as a star of America’s open-wheel racing scene, the personable Will Power became the first Australian to win the Indianapolis 500 when he won the 2018 edition of the famous old race.
Early racing career and move to Europe
Runner-up in national Formula Ford (2001) and F3 (2002), Power won Australia’s 2002 Formula Holden Championship before moving to England to race in the 2003 British F3 Championship. He began the year in Diamond Racing’s Ralt F303-Mugen but had switched to Fortec’s Dallara F303-Renault by the time he finished second at Thruxton. He joined Alan Docking Racing for 2004 to finish ninth overall when second (at Silverstone and twice at Knockhill) was again his best race result.
Power tested an F1 Minardi PS04B-Cosworth at Misano that winter before winning races for Carlin in the 2005 Formula Renault 3.5 Championship. Australia’s driver in the inaugural A1GP race weekend at Brands Hatch, he finished second in round two.
Champ Cars with Team Australia
He made his Champ Car debut at Surfers Paradise in 2005 for Team Australia and remained with the Derrick Walker-managed squad in 2006. Third in Mexico and on pole position in front of his home crowd at Surfers, Power finished sixth overall to take that year’s Rookie of the Year honours.
Champ Cars was in the final throws of its war with the Indy Racing League at the time but Power made the most of 2007 by winning the opening round in Las Vegas and again in Toronto. Fourth in the championship that year, he intended to continue with KV Racing but the series entered administration with its competitors (including the Australian) transferred to the strengthened IRL. There was one last hurrah however for Power won the final Champ Car race in history – the one-off 2008 Long Beach Grand Prix.
Indycar success with Penske
When Hélio Castroneves needed to (successfully) defend charges of tax evasion at the start of 2009, Power was drafted in as his temporary replacement in Penske Racing’s IndyCar squad. The Australian qualified on pole position at Long Beach and Edmonton and converted the latter into his maiden IndyCar victory.
A full-time member of the team in 2010, Power won five times on street and road courses to finish as an impressive runner-up just five points behind Dario Franchitti. He began 2011 by qualifying on pole for the first four races and winning twice. Four more victories followed but Power was beaten to the title by Franchitti once more in the tragic Las Vegas finale. He was hospitalised in the horrendous accident that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life with Power confirmed as runner-up.
The class of the field at the start of 2012, he won three of the first four races to take a stranglehold in the points. That run came to a violent end when Mike Conway collected him during the Indianapolis 500. While Power did not win again, he still entered the final round 17 points ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay. However, he crashed out at Fontana to finish runner-up for a third successive season.
He remained among the quickest drivers in the series but did not feature in the 2013 title fight. Invariably a strong qualifier, he suffered on raceday at the start of the season and it was June before he finished in the top three. But he won three of the last five races to clinch fourth in the standings and remind pundits of his title-winning potential.
Indycar champion at last
Having come so close during his decade racing at the top of North American open wheel competition, Power finally came good in 2014. He won the opening race at St Petersburg and finished in the top 10 for the first half of the season. That included another win in Detroit before a mid-season slump and several penalties for blocking and speeding in the pitlane saw his points lead overhauled by Penske team-mate Castroneves. However, victory from pole position at Milwaukee proved decisive and Power clinched a first Indycar title by coming from the back of the grid to finish ninth in the final round at Fontana.
The reigning champion qualified on the front row for 11 of the 16 Indycar rounds of 2015 but that consistent pace was not always translated into hard results. He won the Indianapolis GP and finished a career-best second in the Indy 500 itself. But he did not score another podium finish and slumped to third in the final standings.
He was in the hunt once more in 2016 despite missing the opening race through concussion. A mid-season purple patch during which he finished first or second for six races in a row meant Power challenged Penske team-mate Simon Pagenaud until the final round. He won four times but ultimately lost out to the Frenchman when championship runner-up for a fourth time.
Historic victories at Indianapolis
Power counted the Indianapolis Grand Prix among his three victories during 2017 but first lap incidents and a puncture while dominating at Barber stymied another title charge.
He repeated that Indianapolis road course victory in 2018 to deliver Team Penske’s 200th IndyCar race win. Power then beat Ed Carpenter in the Indianapolis 500 itself to become the first driver to win both events at the Speedway, and the first Australian to win America’s most famous race. Chevrolet’s inferior fuel mileage limited his performance thereafter, especially on ovals, but he passed both Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi to score a third victory of the season at St Louis’ Gateway Park. Gearbox issues thwarted his challenge at Portland as Power came third in the standings.
Now 40 years old, Power entered his 11th season with Team Penske in 2019. He remained among Indycar’s fastest drivers but the season was punctuated by errors by driver and team alike. There were penalties at Long Beach, the Indy 500 (for hitting a crew member at a pitstop), Toronto and Iowa. His drive through the field during Detroit’s first race was ruined when he left the pits on three wheels and he crashed at St Louis. Power finally scored his first victory of the year when the Pocono 500 was stopped for rain, and he repeated that success in the penultimate round at Portland. Second at Laguna Seca, Power was fifth in the final standings.