INDIANAPOLIS, May 27 (Reuters) - Will Power was on a critical mission on Sunday, to finally win the Indianapolis 500 and prove that he belonged amongst the higher echelons of drivers.
Despite an enviable IndyCar career, including a series championship, the 37-year old was still in the shadow of his teammates at Penske Racing, which has 16 previous victories in the iconic race and the Brickyard had become his Moby Dick after finishing second in 2015.
“Absolutely, it was the last box to tick, to be considered as a very successful driver,” said the Australian.
Ironically, Power came to the team as a part-time replacement driver for three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, in 2009 who was involved in litigation.
“If you remember back to the situation that Helio had there,” said Penske Team president Tim Cindric.
“Will, honestly wasn’t on our radar screen.
“We couldn’t commit to a full season, we couldn’t commit to more than one race,” Cindric added noting that team was not going to add other car to their stable.
Power was strapped into a car for the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida just as the Castroneves legal issue ended.
He was fastest in the first practice session but told he was no longer needed.
That performance, however, impressed Roger Penske and a major sponsor enough to provide another car.
“Roger told him that night, ‘you have a ride at the Indy 500’,” Cindric added.
Even before that year’s Indy 500, Power finished second at Long Beach and then later won in Edmonton, Canada to earn a full-time drive for 2010.
In his first full year he garnered five victories. The following year, he had six wins and in 2014 was the IndyCar Series champion.
The following year, he finished second at the iconic race to team mate Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya.
“I was so disappointed in 2015, so close,” Power said.
“I thought about that a lot, what I should have done should have changed this and that. It’s just not your day. That day I did everything (I) could.
“Today I did it again, and it all worked out well.
“It was through speed, pit stops, in and out laps, good restarts.
“It was a fight to win it. It was not an easy win. That makes it much more satisfying.”
Reporting by Lewis Franck; Editing by Greg Stutchbury