Lake Norman & Mooresville

Driver predicts a challenging year

Mooresville has earned the "Race City USA" slogan mostly for its NASCAR legacy.

That changed when Roger Penske moved all of his race teams to North Carolina.

His 425,000-square-foot complex is a few miles north of downtown, where English is spoken in many tongues.

One such accent is that of Will Power's. Hailing from Toowoomba, Australia, the 30-year-old has turned the Izod Indy Car world upside down in just two years.

Immediately likeable, Power is the kind of guy you'd like to have as a neighbor, sitting in the backyard grilling burgers, which he's been known to do at his Lake Norman area home.

"I really like it down here," said Power. "People are very friendly. I am enjoying the weather - except for the allergies - and I married a Texas girl and am used to Southern hospitality."

However, that affable nature disappears the minute his helmet visor goes down.

"He's incredibly focused in the car," said Penske Racing's Mike Ribas.

Ribas has been in the sport for many years and is quick to say Power is destined for success.

Power came to the team in 2009 to sub for Helio Castroneves, who was in a legal wrangle and later exonerated. Former Indy Car Team Australia owner Derrick Walker worked for Penske in the past and recommended the talented Aussie. Power was honored just to get the call.

"They showed me the list of the other driver's they were considering," said Power. "They were all very good. I wasn't sure I got the job, I was so nervous. They called me a few days later with the good news."

Power was grateful to get the nod. "This didn't mean I got to race," he said. It just meant he had the "opportunity" to race.

Power didn't waste an ounce of ethanol fuel when he got the chance. He scored his first victory for the team on the streets of Edmonton, Canada, before a crash at Infineon Raceway sidelined him for the rest of the 2009 season.

2010 was Power's breakthrough year.

He more than made up for lost time, scoring five wins, a season record eight pole positions and the inaugural Mario Andretti Izod IndyCar Road Racing Championship. A gaffe at Chicagoland erased Power's early points lead, and he finished a close second to Target/Chip Ganassi's Dario Franchitti for the 2011 overall championship.

This year, Power picked up right were he left off, winning two of the first four races and all four pole positions.

Even so, Power thinks the season will not be a cakewalk.

"This is the last year with this car and the toughest year in history. Everyone has developed this car. There isn't much more (the engineers) can do. It has compressed the field so winning the Indy 500 and the championship is much more difficult," said Power.

Long story short, that means the winning difference will come from the human side of the equation. He must be inch perfect on the track, the pit stops shaved to fractions of a second and the strategy calls from the top of the pit box spot on.

He and his team now head to the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is celebrating the 100th running of the 500 mile race.

Roger Penske "lives" for this race. Why? There are 15 helmets of previous Penske Indy winners on display in the team lobby. The display seems to go on forever, symbolizing the team's total commitment to this race.

The driver from "down under" will do everything he can on Memorial Day to extend the display by one more helmet.

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