Formula One driver Mark Webber doesn't have to win the world title this year to be a champion in Will Power's eyes.
That's because without getting some financial aid from the Red Bull racer five years ago, Power's career might have come to a screeching halt.
Instead, Webber pitched in to help his fellow Australian keep racing and Power is now leading the IndyCar Series championship on the strength of four wins and eight top-5 finishes going into this weekend's Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Although he excelled once given the chance, Power's success in IndyCar may never have happened had the pair not met in 2004 at the Silverstone circuit in England, when he was watching the British Formula 3 Series from the sidelines due to lack of funding.
The chance meeting made an impression on Webber, who was with racing for Williams F1 at the time.
"It was a make-or-break time for him but I could see how determined he was not to give up and go home," Webber recalled.
"It was clear he was an incredibly focused guy who had talent and just needed a bit of advice and a few introductions."
A year later, Webber helped fund Power's World Series by Renault season, contributing a substantial amount of the €500,000 that he needed to continue racing. He also spoke to some of his contacts about backing Power and played a key role in ensuring that Power landed a ride with the top flight Carlin Motorsport team.
"He certainly helped me get to that last step. Having Mark Webber tell these guys that it was worth getting behind me certainly helped," Power said.
"I can't tell you exactly why he helped me out, but if he didn't think it was worth it, he wouldn't have. But he'd been through exactly the same thing as me trying to find sponsorship and getting back to racing."
In 1997, Webber's career hit a massive speed bump when he ran out of cash halfway through his own British F3 season. Things looked bleak until Australian rugby legend David Campese opened his cheque book. The $100,000 kept Webber racing long enough to catch the eye of Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug which put him on the road to F1. He signed a deal to race for Minardi in 2002.
Fast forward eight years and Webber is atop the F1 world championship standings with seven races to go and looks to be the favourite to win the title. But he still remembers the troubling and uncertain days he faced climbing the ladder, which now compels Webber to extend a helping hand to deserving young drivers.
"You can have all the talent in the world, but you need to get yourself in a position where you can prove it on a world stage and get the right people to take notice," he said.
"I was fortunate enough to have a few key people support me just at the right time - like David Campese - to keep my dream alive, so when I was in a position to do the same for someone else, I did."
Not only did Webber give Power a financial boost and let the young countryman live in his house for a while, but he also gave his girlfriend at the time a job in his office to help her learn about the racing business. She continues works for him.
By the end of that fateful 2005 season, Power secured a drive with Team Australia in the Champ Car Series. He stayed there until Champ Car was swallowed by the IndyCar Series in 2008. Two years later, he's finally earning a regular salary and intends to start following Webber's example when his situation allows it.
"It's important to help out because it's just so tough to get to the top of the sport because of the fact that it costs so much to race," said Power.
"When I am well-established and in a strong place financially, I would like to help someone out too."
Webber has continued to help young talent and is now backing up-and-coming New Zealand racer Mitch Evans. The 16-year-old Evans has six wins in nine starts in the Australian Formula 3 championship and lies second in points despite missing three races to attend a test in Europe.
Although he's now focused on winning his and Red Bull's maiden world championship, Webber still finds time to watch IndyCar races to keep tabs on Power's title challenge.
"Will's done an amazing job to come through with so many wins, and picking up ovals after years of focusing only on road racing is no mean feat," Webber said.
"It's fantastic to see Will's hard work and determination finally pay off for him - I'm glad we were able to give him a little boost when he needed it. Maybe he'll be in a position to re-pay the favour to someone else coming up through the ranks one day."Report Typo/Error
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