It’s a rather sad reflection on the Australian media that Will Power’s exploits and achievements have garnered such little attention in his homeland. This is a driver who had the talent to have made it all the way to Formula 1, but lacking the funding to make it possible, has gone on to carve out a hugely successful career in the American IndyCar Series that culminated in him winning the 2014 championship title.
The recently-published biography, The Sheer Force of Will Power, was borne from his championship success and in partnership with the journalist David Malsher, it has quickly earned praise as one of the best sports biographies on the market.
Immensely talented in the junior categories, Will Power made his mark in the ChampCar World Series with a succession of outstanding wins against the likes of Sébastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy before moving across to the IndyCar Series after the merger of CCWS and the Indy Racing League.
He didn’t take long to find his feet and prove he was one of the best road and street circuit exponents in the field, and he was quickly challenging the series’ leading drivers, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, as a title contender.
But between 2010 and 2012, Power found himself beaten to the post in the final round. Rightly or wrongly, he earned a reputation as a ‘choker’.
In truth, Power’s single-minded focus was on how to win the title. Captured in this book for the first time is the true insight into the Queensland’s brutal honesty and self-reflection on how it took him 20 years to reach the pinnacle of his career when he finally won the crown in 2014.
We were delighted to sit down and speak with Will in the release of his book in the lead-up to the 2016 IndyCar Series season, which kicks off this weekend with the Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
|Full Name||William ‘Will’ Steven Power|
|Born||01 March 1981, Toowoomba (AUS)|
|2001||Australian Formula Ford Championship, Stealth RF95, 2nd overall|
|2002||Australian Drivers’ Championship, Ralt Australia Reynard 94D, 11 races, 7 wins, 10 podiums, 1st overall
Australian Formula 3 Championship, Cooltemp Racing, 12 races, 6 wins, 10 podiums, 2nd overall
|2004||British Formula 3 Championship, Alan Docking Racing, 5 podiums, 9th overall
Formula 1, Minardi Cosworth PS03, Test Driver
|2005||World Series by Renault, Carlin Motorsport, 15 races, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 7th overall|
|2006||Champ Car, Walker Racing Lola Ford, 14 races, 1 podium, 6th overall|
|2007||Champ Car, Walker Racing Panoz Cosworth, 14 races, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 4th overall|
|2008||IndyCar Series, KV Racing Technology, 18 races, 1 win, 12th overall|
|2009||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Honda, 6 races, 1 win, 2 podiums, 19th overall|
|2010||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Honda, 17 races, 5 wins, 9 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2011||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Honda, 17 races, 6 wins, 9 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2012||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, 15 races, 3 wins, 6 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2013||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, 19 races, 3 wins, 4 podiums, 4th overall|
|2014||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, 18 races, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 1st overall|
|2015||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, 16 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 3rd overall|
|2016||IndyCar Series, Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet, season in progress|
How did the opportunity come about to partner with David Malsher on the book?
David was a journalist over in England when I was racing in Formula 3 and he later became the editor of Racer magazine here in the US and started to cover the IndyCar Series. That’s when I met him, and I remember he said to me a long time ago, ‘When you start winning races, I’d like to write your biography one day.’
So he’s had in his mind what he’s wanted to do from the very beginning, and when Harper Collins approached me about it, it was a no-brainer to get David involved.
He’s done a fantastic job pulling it all together. How long did the entire process take to pull together – from concept to publication – and how did you juggle working on the book with your racing and family commitments?
I was working on it throughout the 2015 season. I’d be reading through chapters that had been written, as well as sit down for further interviews between races. My wife help me a lot with coordinating everything and arranging 2-3 hours where I could sit with David on the project. The overall timeline ran from November 2014 for almost a year.
What was your biggest learning through this process? Has it made you reflect differently on certain chapters and incidents from your past?
Yeah, it was interesting reading through some of the chapters in the editing process. Some made me really happy to re-read and revisit them, while the chapter about Las Vegas [where Dan Wheldon was killed in a multi-car pile-up that also saw Will injured] was very painful. I couldn’t bring myself to read it after giving the interview with David. I told him everything that happened but have never been able to bring myself to read it.
You raised the point which is the central theme of the book: along the road to the success you’ve enjoyed there have been many highlights, but also several bumps in the road. I want to take you back to the beginning and talk about your father, Bob. He was a racer and had some successes domestically; how influential was his support for you and your brother when you started racing?
My father was absolutely influential. The fact that he had a race car around from the earliest moments I can remember planted the seed in me from the very beginning. He got us into go-karting when we were kids. My earliest memory I have when I think about what I wanted to be when I was older was being a race car driver.
I was the only one who kept going with it, and my Dad and I went on our road trips and spent a lot of time together as I went through all the junior categories. He was a huge part of all that which happened for me.
Your father aside, who were your first motorsport idols when you were growing up? What was it about their character or achievements that you admired?
Funnily enough. my racing hero when I was a kid was Nelson Piquet. I don’t know why – maybe it was his name, or something, that made me like him. I know everyone’s hero in that era was Ayrton Senna, and he was also one of mine too, but I just remember liking Nelson even more. My brother, who was a little older, liked Niki Lauda.
I don’t remember the exact reason at all why I preferred Nelson above everyone else, but perhaps it was just his name!
The early chapters of the book talk in great detail to the obstacles you had to overcome when you came to race in Europe after previously dominating the Australian racing scene. Looking back on the trials you had to go through – particularly pulling together the right budget, team and equipment – do you think this is tougher for today’s generation of young drivers?
It’s so heavily dependent on finances and the access to backing today. Looking back, trying to get a good ride in Europe seemed like such an impossibility, but I just had to keep chipping away. You see a lot of kids now who have huge backing behind them, but in all honesty that was also the case when I was coming up as well.
It’s the same deal: you still have to come up with a certain budget, and have the right people who are interested enough in you to put big dollars in. It costs a lot of money.
I’m keeping an eye on another young kid from Toowoomba, Jordan Lloyd, and he’s trying to make a career in racing here in the United States. He’s going through the same stuff I went through, and I’m trying to help out how I can by acting as a mentor to him.
As much as you’re being a mentor to Jordan, you’ve also had some very influential figures in your corner during your career: Mark Webber, Derrick Walker, Craig Gore and today, the Captain, Roger Penske. How has their influence shaped you in the direction of your career, and influenced your decision to support the next generation of drivers?
All of those guys were part of connecting the dots on the road to a championship like the IndyCar Series and an outfit liker Team Penske. All have played major parts and been hugely influential. You learn from the experiences of each, and create your own shared experiences with each of them, and that’s what shapes you as a driver and a person.
Your American breakthrough came with your debut in the Gold Coast 300 round of the Champ Car Series [he ran strongly until he was knocked off track by teammate Alex Tagliani], and aside from a few bumps here and there, it’s been an upward trajectory for you which peaked with the 2014 IndyCar Series crown. What were your early impressions of the US scene compared to Australia and Europe?
Europe seems so much more cutthroat in and around the paddock, but out on the track it’s the same objective whereever you are in the world: you’re trying to be the quickest and to win. In Europe, hardly anyone talked to each other, you hated your teammates – I’m not saying that’s not the case here!
The IndyCar Series is probably the most competitive it’s ever been – you can have the entire field separated by just one second on a road course and you’re looking for half-tenths. So the feeling is very similar today.
The biggest difference is that the American scene has oval circuits.
How did you find that adaption to oval racing? While you had some dirt-track racing experience, the two disciplines don’t even warrant comparison. How did you get the discipline and confidence to race on both the short-track ovals and super speedways?
It’s a very tough learning curve. My first experience came in Champ Cars at the Milwaukee Mile, which is a flat, one-mile oval. It’s the oval which is most like a road course anyway and a Champ Car was unbelievable around there because it had so much power.
I remember having my first run at the rookie drivers’ orientation test and thinking I’d done a pretty good job. I was lifting off as I turned in and then getting back on the power.
Then we got to the first practice session where they had the entire field there, and I remember AJ Allmendinger going through Turn 1 with the throttle wide open. ‘Holy shit!’, I thought to myself. I had a lot to learn.
It’s such an uncomfortable feeling on an oval. You’re surrounded by walls and you’re trying to thread the needle. It took me a long time to get over that discomfort and the nerves, but now it feels like second nature to me. It took me a long time just to feel comfortable, where you can trust the car and not worry about every little twitch at the rear. The cars I started out on were very unforgiving; if you lost it, then that was it and you were in the wall.
It definitely was a tough learning curve. Hitting the wall hurts physically and it damages your confidence just as much, so you really had to creep up on it.
Among my many memories of your racing career have been some truly epic scraps with the likes of Robert Kubica, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon. Who has been the your favourite, or the toughest, driver you’ve had to go into battle with?
That’s a good question. Each driver has been different over the years. In World Series by Renault, Kubica was my main competition and we butted heads early on.
With Dario, I definitely had my share of run-ins – most famously at Toronto – with him when we battled between 2009-2013. He and I battled it out for two of three years for the championship, although it was kind of funny that he and I didn’t often race wheel-to-wheel. When he’d win, I’d finish miles down the order, and vice-versa. Dario was so experienced and methodical, he really knew the game and was extremely consistent.
Perhaps the driver who I’ve raced against in close combat most often has been Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
I want to ask you a few questions before we close about the changes that have occurred to the IndyCar Series in recent years – particularly in terms of the regulations and rules – and the way forward for the championship. Firstly, what are your thoughts on the championship as a whole today?
To me, the IndyCar Series is the most competitive it’s ever been, with the best quality teams in the field. It’s such a closely-fought series and you were lucky – as I was last year – to win two or three races because there are so many drivers who have a realistic shot of being at the front.
The competition is so close and it’s made the racing great. It’s getting the sport back to the heyday it enjoyed in the 1990s. TV viewing numbers doubled in 2015, we’re seeing the return to old tracks and the addition of new ones, so I think the championship’s in great shape. It’s such great racing too thanks to the new control chassis which came out in 2012.
Added to that, the racing as been safer. It’s the only open wheel chassis where, if you rubbed wheels, you don’t get airborne and it’s also impossible to interlock your wheels. There were tragic circumstances that brought this about, but it’s made the sport better.
In 2014 we saw the introduction of specific aero kits from Honda and Chevrolet. Is there a risk that the IndyCar Series could become too aero dependent given there was a clear disparity between the two marques’ aero kits?
They’ve taken a lot of downforce off the floor and put it back on the top of the chassis, which is totally the wrong way to go. They had no choice because I don’t think they’d realised how much downforce the manufacturers would find through the changes that were permitted.
The original DW12 – minus all the aero bits – was much better for racing and wasn’t nearly as affected by turbulence as the 2015-spec machines. I think INDYCAR is learning and I think there will be more changes to come where they will backtrack on all the little winglets that have sprung up everywhere. That’s what happens when you encourage competition between the aerodynamicists; they will try to find every shred of downforce they can.
There’s something to be said for a one-make formula like the IndyCar Series. There’s virtually no difference between the engine manufacturers, but clearly there was between the two chassis variants. You want to have close racing through the field, and I think the regulations will backtrack somewhat to encourage a return to that level of competition.
Is there anything within the current rules structure you would like to see changed? There has been much controversy about the double points on offer for the Indianapolis 500 and the finale at Sonoma Raceway, but then again everyone is effectively living and dying by the same double-edged sword. Are there other rules you would like to see changed?
I’m not a fan of the double points concept – unless of course I’m the one benefiting from it [laughs] – but I think it detracts from the show. Why should one or two races be worth more than another, where first to sixth places get more points than if you were to win almost any other race? Double the prize money on offer, but don’t double the points.
The one thing I am not a fan of, and never have been, is the rule that the pit lane is closed when a full-course caution is called. You might be leading the race with others behind you having pitted and then a full-course yellow is called, and you’ve effectively been handed a drive-through penalty because you can’t take the pit stop and use the gap you’ve built. I think that’s so ridiculous and that’s the one thing I would like to see changed.
Formula 1 has proven that the technology of the Virtual Safety Car works, and frankly the IndyCar Series should adopt it. If we did, you could get rid of that pit lane rule. It’s confusing for fans when the whole field gets inverted because of a yellow flag. Racing should always be about the best strategy and talent of the driver being at the front.
The 2016 IndyCar Series has some calendar changes with the returns to Road America and Phoenix International Raceway. Can and should the IndyCar Series branch out beyond the United States and have more of an international flavour?
I would like to see more overseas races. I know the idea of a predominantly overseas-based winter series was mooted. For me, it was such a pity that they let that Gold Coast race go. It was such a great event and over 300,000 people would come for that weekend to watch one of the greatest street circuit events in the world.
The IndyCar Series has tried some overseas races, although the recent adventured to Brazil haven’t exactly been successful. I think there’s great demand for overseas races and that it would be a huge benefit to explore this once again. Yes, many of the teams have American sponsors which don’t have an overseas market, but there are plenty of potential offshore sponsors who’d also like to get involved and currently can’t. If organisers can get the sanctioning fees right so the teams will make decent prize money from them, then I don’t see why we can’t race overseas once more.
Images via Motorsport.com