EDMONTON - When it comes to the Honda Edmonton Indy, Will Power admits he heads his own special interest lobby.
But the current Indy Car Series points leader and defending Edmonton race champion also believes he speaks for most of the top drivers in the series.
“I really hope they keep this race. There’s no place like it on our series,” said the driver who flew here from Indianapolis for a media day Tuesday to promote the July 23-25 race.
“I love the track. It’s a real drivers’ track. To me it’s the most physical and technical track we have. You never stop turning. When I won the pole here last year I could barely talk on the radio when I was done. I put that much into the lap.
“All the top drivers love racing here. It’s fabulous for the fans. It’s the one road course where you can see the whole track.
“And this event is one of the best we have as far as crowds go and atmosphere goes. I really hope they keep it.”
With Honda sponsorship and Mayor Stephen Mandel personally projecting a future for the race here, the press conference which needs to be held here pretty damn soon is to announce a new multi-year contract for the event and plans for the continuing use of the downtown airport track for the City of Edmonton-backed event.
But with his candid comments, bringing in Power wasn’t a bad bit of business in the interim.
What this series is becoming since the merger between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League and with the bounce back of the economy, Power suggests, is a time to be getting into the series not out.
“This is the most competitive it’s ever been,” he said. “I really believe this is the most competitive series in the world right now.”
There’s something about Power and this place.
The driver from Toowooba, Australia, is strangely connected to the city where his Canadian grandmother met his Australian grandfather who was stationed here as a pilot during World War II.
Power won a pole position here in both Champ Car and the merged Indy Racing League series, and last year, after coming here as a part-time driver in a spare Roger Penske car, he won the race, leading for 90 of the 95 laps.
Last year, Power was recruited to drive for Team Penske while Helio Castroneves was on trial for tax evasion early in the season. Penske gave Power a car for the two Canadian races as a bonus after Castroneves was pronounced not guilty and returned to drive the car to victory in the Indy 500.
“Getting a chance to drive in the two Canadian races, in Toronto and Edmonton, had a lot to do with me getting a full-time ride this year,” said Power.
“The Edmonton race was probably my last chance to win a race last year with the rest of the series on the ovals.”
If it wasn’t for the event which happened one month after he won here, the saga of a driver who went from not having a ride to winning here and going on to lead the league after the first five events of 2010 would be a swell story by itself.
But the guy’s name is Will Power. And the driver named after his great-grandfather has been worthy of everything the name implies, coming back from a broken back.
It was August 22, when running practice laps at Sonoma, Calif.,rookie Nelson Philippe spun and E.J. Viso clipped the front of the car and Power, having nowhere to go, ended up in a horrifying crash which resulted in his being helicoptered to hospital with two broken vertebrae and four more fractures and his future very much in question.
“When I first hit I thought ‘There goes my career.’ It was just a split-second thought, and I was in so much pain I didn’t care,” said Power. “I was in the worst pain of my life and all I wanted to do was get out of that car.
“When I broke my back I was very concerned I could still be quick,” he said. “But Roger Penske is very loyal and he promised me I’d have something to drive this year so I went to work exceptionally hard at getting back.”
He started off just trying to walk. Last week, he ran a half marathon at Indianapolis. And having toured around the river valley and seen the stairs which run up to the city centre Tuesday, Power is already making plans for his return for race week.
“I love this place. I think I’ll come early this year and run the river valley and up those stairs. I love running up stairs like that.”
He just loves the place. Too bad he isn’t a hockey player.