AFTER three previous seasons when he couldn’t quite crack it, Toowoomba’s Will Power is finally an IndyCar champion – Australia’s first ever.
The monkey is off his back, the ghosts of previous stumbles buried deep.
While Power didn’t finish off his rivals with a sabre-rattling flourish, having stumbled at the final hurdle in past efforts, he played the caution game to perfection.
He avoided contact, didn’t overdrive, kept his cool and, importantly, avoided upsetting the officials.
His controlled conservatism may not have enthralled the fans, but Power did what was necessary to finally be crowned the champ.
There was an anxious time in qualifying when Helio Castroneves, his most serious rival for the title, grabbed pole for the decider at Fontana, while Power qualified a season-low 21st in a 22-car line-up, after he nearly crashed.
Castroneves earned one bonus point for the pole and went into the double-points, 250-lap, 500-mile season finale giving Penske teammate Power a handy but not insurmountable 50-points start.
This time, there were no mistakes.
Tony Kanaan won the race, but he was a bit player on Saturday night. In the bigger championship battle, Power did more than enough by finishing ninth.
A pit-lane penalty cost Castroneves any shot at another crown, pushing him back to 14th and out of contention. And an emotional Power clinched Roger Penske's first IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish Jr won the 2006 title.
"It was a great year for the whole team," remarked a drained Power. "I feel with the two teammates, Juan [Pablo Montoya] and Helio, they gave good feedback, and we were a very strong combination. Full credit to the team.
"That was one of the hardest races ever. I was crying over the line. It's surreal to be champion, man. I can't believe it."
With the pace on from the start, Power worked his way forward into the leading 10. After the only restart of the race, he even moved into the lead, but a front wing adjustment at his final pit stop left his car handling poorly and, without pressure from Castroneves, he stayed out of trouble as he eased off.
Power won the title on merit; he was victorious in three rounds (including on an oval) and led far more laps than any other driver. But he fell foul of officialdom during a tumultuous season marred by blocking violations, spins and pit-lane penalties.
"I'm so mentally exhausted now, and my hands are like numb from holding the wheel so tight," Power said afterwards.
"The last 14 days have been the worst in my life. Just mentally and emotionally so bad – not sleeping and stressing. I feel bad for my wife, keeping her up at night.”
Liz Power’s not complaining now. Her man is the king of IndyCar racing.
While we salute Will Power’s title triumph, we should also acknowledge Mark Webber’s financial backing to get his fellow Australian into American racing after opportunities dried up in Europe.
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