One of the hottest seats left on the 2009 IndyCar Series grid has been filled. After months of speculation over who will take over the driving duties from court-bound Helio Castroneves, Penske Racing announced Tuesday that Will Power will be the fill-in for the upcoming season.
Power, who along with Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay, were all rumored to be in the running for the coveted ride. Even sportscar ace Romain Dumas, who has driven for Penske's now-defunct American Le Mans Series program for the past three years, appeared to be a possible option. But instead, Power has gotten the nod.
"It is a tremendous opportunity for me to join one of the best teams in all of racing," Power said. "I'm looking forward to the start of the season and assisting Team Penske in its preparation for 2009."
The 27-year-old Australian will climb into the No. 3 Dallara Honda for the first time during the series' two pre-season tests at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February and Barber Motorsports Park in March.
Castroneves, who was indicted on federal tax evasion charges in October, is set to go on trial on March 2, some five weeks before the season-opening round on the streets of St. Petersburg. Power will assume the driving duties if the Brazilian's court case and eventual outcome doesn't end before the season opener.
"We remain hopeful that Helio's situation will have a positive outcome and the team is fully behind him," said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. "While Helio prepares for his court case, we're excited to welcome Will Power to the team. Will has already proven that he's a terrific racer and we think he's going to be a good fit with Team Penske."
Following an impressive rookie season in IndyCar with KV Racing Technologies, Power was left without the backing of Craig Gore's Team Australia for 2009. In addition to his accolades in IndyCar, which included a pole position in his home race at Surfers Paradise, Power also won the Long Beach Grand Prix, Champ Car's final race.
Power has two other Champ Car wins to his credit, both coming in 2007 when driving for the Derrick Walker-run Team Australia squad. He also earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2006 after making the transition from racing in Europe. Now, a new challenge waits.
"When you come to the U.S. and race open-wheelers, it's the team you want to sign up for," Power said of Penske Racing. "When I was given this offer, I didn't give it much thought. Honestly, I didn't have anything sold at the time anyway. I thought of it as the best direction for me. These guys have a lot of experience. No matter what happens, I'll come out of it a better driver."
The addition of Power now means that Penske has two Australians on board as drivers. Sydney native Ryan Briscoe joined the team's IndyCar operation last year, scoring two points-paying victories plus a win on his home soil on the streets of Surfers Paradise; a non-points event.
While Briscoe and Power climbed the ladder through similar paths in Europe, they only got to know each other best while racing in the States. "We're very excited to welcome Will on board," Briscoe said. "We all saw how fast he was last year and in previous years in Champ Car. I think he'll be a great asset to the team in the lead up to the championship. I look forward to working with him."
There are questions regarding Power's actual race schedule, especially if Castroneves will be ready to go in time for St. Petersburg. But Cindric stressed precautionary measures had to be taken, and further decisions will be made pending the outcome of Castroneves' trial.
"Under these circumstances, our job is to make sure in racing, you're as prepared as you can possibly be," Cindric said. "That's what Roger has always set precedence for. That's what our organization is known for is preparation. We need to be sure in 2009 that we're ready to go and ready to win as many races as we can."