Harris: Talk About Speedy Recovery

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 16 2010
Will Power is back from a broken back. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Will Power is back from a broken back. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Last August, Will Power lay in a hospital bed wondering what would become of his racing career.

Power broke two vertebrae in his lower back and sustained a concussion in a crash during a practice session for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma a few days earlier.

It was a tremendous setback for the Australian, and not just physically. He was driving hard to convince team owner Roger Penske to keep him on as the elite Team Penske’s third driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

At that point, Power wasn’t even sure he would be ready to race at the start of the 2010 season.

He needn’t have worried.

Penske stuck with Power, signing him as a full-time teammate to Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, and Power paid immediate dividends, winning Sunday’s season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil.

“It’s been a tough recovery,” Power said. “I’m very grateful to be given this opportunity. I laid in bed at the hospital and never thought it was going to happen.

“I feel great,” he added. “It’s been tough with my recovery from the back (injury). I’m just very grateful to be given this opportunity. I didn’t know what was going to happen. You think, ‘Will I be fast again?’ and all the other things that go through your head. I’m appreciative of (sponsor) Verizon coming on board and giving me a full year.”

Power first made his mark in the U.S. in the now-defunct Champ Car World Series, where he was rookie of the year in 2006 and finished fourth in the series with two wins in 2007.  He moved to IndyCar with KV Racing in 2008, but found himself without a ride after that season.

Penske came calling when he needed a replacement for Castroneves, who was standing trial for tax evasion _ charges of which the Brazilian was eventually acquitted.

“It’s true I didn’t know if it was going to be for one race, two races or a whole season, but it’s Team Penske,’’ Power said. “You take the chance, do your best and hope that’s enough to keep you there.’’

He did just that.

When Castroneves returned after missing just one race, Penske had only enough sponsorship to sign Power on for five more races. It was quite an audition as Power finished ninth or better in each of his starts, including a win at Edmonton and a fifth-place in the Indy 500.

The terrifying collision with Nelson Philippe at Sonoma ended his season and left Power in limbo, but things have worked out just fine.

His back held up on the temporary street circuit in Brazil that was so rough it produced bloody blisters on both of his hands.

“They’re nasty and, man, I’m hurting,’’ he said, showing his hands to the television camera. “On the radio under yellow I was saying ‘My hands are so bad.’ But when we had that yellow (flag) and I saw the opportunity that the win was there to be had, I went for it.”

Power passed Ryan Hunter-Reay three laps from the end of the rain-shortened opener and went on to an easy win.

And he isn’t the only driver who bounced back from serious injury with a strong showing.

Vitor Meira, who drives for A.J. Foyt Racing, suffered a broken back in a nasty crash during the Indianapolis 500 last May. This was also the Brazilian driver’s first race since that accident and Meira wound holding off a big pack of challengers at the end to finish third.

“It couldn’t be much better than that,’’ Meira said. “I think Will (Power) can relate to it with a back injury and all that. It gets pretty uncertain at some times and having a team behind you making sure that the seat is availble, makes a big difference during the recovery.

“This is the start of the big thank you I have to give to A.J. (Foyt) and (sponsor) ABC Supply. I hope we get better. We overcame a lot here. Like Will said, it was a mixed up race. I think whether you were able to keep your nose clean and were fast enough to make up position in all conditions, you could come out with a good result and that’s what we did.’’

It’s a long way from hospitals in San Francisco and Indianapolis to the podium in Sao Paulo. It’s also a testament to the determination and courage of Power and Meira.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 16 2010
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