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Indy race car driver, Danica Patrick signing an autographs for Jake Racklin, 14, of Coral Springs at Rapids Water Park, Riviera Beach. (Bill Ingram)
Indy race car driver, Danica Patrick signing an autographs for Jake Racklin, 14, of Coral Springs at Rapids Water Park, Riviera Beach. (Bill Ingram)

Pappone

Basking in Danica's celebrity Add to ...

Despite claiming to have "pretty good legs," Will Power probably won't be asked to pose in a bikini any time soon.

But the sometime Penske driver is certainly glad fellow IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick has what it takes to grace the pages of a swimsuit edition.

Power, from Toowoomba, Australia, needs to raise sponsorship money and he thinks being on the outer edges of Patrick's shining star helps other drivers in the series find backers.

"She's a good thing because she attracts attention and sponsors to the series. And she's the real deal: She's a very good driver and does get lots of spotlight, but rightly so," said Power, who is technically the defending champion in Toronto after winning the city's final Champ Car race in 2007.

"It helps the series out having someone like Danica there and we can use as much help as we can in getting sponsors."

Patrick spawned a wave of "Danica-mania" when she entered the IndyCar Series in 2005 and almost became the first woman to win the famed Indianapolis 500 in her rookie year.

While attracting sponsors may be easier when you're not one of the guys, Power's predicament is a sign of the times, especially with the economy bottoming out harder than the Dallara-Honda IndyCars will on the bumpy 11-turn, 2.824-kilometre temporary street course at Exhibition Place this weekend. The action starts today with practice sessions for Sunday's 85-lap Honda Indy Toronto.

Unfortunately, the rest of the IndyCar drivers may not have the Danica beacon shining much longer. With the 27-year-old Andretti-Green driver rumoured to be in talks with several NASCAR teams for 2010, the IndyCar series stands to lose its most valuable asset.

"I think it would make it very difficult and the series needs to keep her as long as it can. She's still under 30 years old, so I think she has time to wait to go to NASCAR and a couple more years of experience would help her," said KV Racing driver Paul Tracy.

"The more people she touches the better it is for the IndyCar series."

Like Power, Tracy also continues his search for a full-time in the series after running a limited schedule this year.

The "Thrill from West Hill" signed a one-race deal with Vision Racing to drive in IndyCar's Canadian debut at Edmonton last season and astonished most with a fourth-place finish. But with no cash behind him, the result was not enough to keep him in the car.

This year, Tracy has started only three of nine races, with his best result being ninth in the Indianapolis 500. He replaced the injured Vitor Meira for one race with A. J. Foyt Enterprises before returning to KV Racing last weekend in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

With his season sputtering along in fits and starts, Tracy finds it difficult to use the no-hold-barred style that made him infamous - and successful - in his racing career.

"Just jumping in every once and a while isn't easy," said the 2003 Champ Car champion.

"Obviously I want to finish races and that's the most important thing, but we are going to go for it this weekend. We hope this is an opportunity to build a program for next year."

Canada's other driver in the series, Alex Tagliani, of Lachenaie, Que., continues to chase sponsors in the hope of getting more starts. He's been a bit more successful than Tracy, getting into the car four times this year and taking home rookie of the year honours at the Indianapolis 500.

But things are not exactly sorted for Tagliani: He didn't know he would race in Toronto until Monday.

"It's basically the worst possible time to be trying to showcase your talent and just get hooked up for a job with a team," he said.

"Hopefully, the next four to five years in my career in IndyCar will be a little bit easier than this last one."

Tagliani already has a deal to run at Edmonton's City Centre Airport circuit in two weeks, but most of his focus is on finding the backing he needs to race a full season next year.

Power is also looking to 2010 after he found himself on the sidelines this year when his Aussie Vineyards sponsor pulled out at the end of 2008. Only a tax evasion suit launched by the U.S. government against Penske driver Helio Castroneves delivered an opportunity to race.

While Castroneves bounced back in dramatic fashion by winning the 93rd Indianapolis 500 in May following his acquittal, Power saw his season stall in the pits. He hasn't been in the car for the five races since the Indy 500, where he finished an impressive fifth.

Toronto is the start of a five race deal for Power who will also race in two weeks at Edmonton, followed by Kentucky Speedway, California's Infineon Raceway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.

"Right now it's pretty tough with the economy the way it is right now being a driver means you have to bring a lot of money to the team instead of picking them on merit and talent," said Power, whose mobile phone plays Australian band Men at Work's 1980s hit Down Under when callers are put on hold.

"I'm happy just to get my foot in the door and maybe there will be something there for the future. The better I do, I hope it helps me for next year."

- Special to The Globe and Mail

 

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