Ryan Briscoe won his first IndyCar race on home turf at Surfers Paradise by beating two other local heroes. After pole starter Will Power hit the wall on lap 16, Briscoe took over the lead and then held of Scott Dixon over the last 15 laps to win the 300-kilometer race by 0.5019 seconds.
"It's so amazing to be able to win a race in my home country," said Briscoe of his third victory this season for Penske Racing. The native of Sydney became the first Aussie to win this event in 18 seasons.
Briscoe moved up to second by following Power through the first chicane after the rolling start, muscling past front row starter Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry. It proved to be pivotal since the two remained in tandem throughout the race, pitting together 20 laps from the end to set up the final run to the checkers.
"I was side-by-side with Dixie at Turn 1," said Briscoe. "I saw that he was forcing the issue and he had to cut the chicane. I'm thankful the people who make the decisions gave me back the position."
"We lost a spot early on," shrugged Dixon, who was born in nearby Brisbane before moving to New Zealand. "Most of the time at a track like this you're trying to pressure a driver into a mistake," he continued. "But if you keep it together it's pretty hard to pass."
Briscoe definitely kept it together. When the Penske driver encountered three lapped drivers in the closing circuits, Dixon was able to close the gap from 1.9 seconds down to 0.746 seconds as Briscoe came upon Ed Carptenter and A.J. Foyt, both involved in earlier accidents. The leader dived inside Carpenter coming up to the beach at Turn 4, then got Foyt at the Turn 5 esses.
By then, Dixon was on his rear wing. "He's pretty persistent," said Briscoe. "You know he doesn't make mistakes. I couldn't put a foot wrong."
A pass on the back straight of the lapped Danica Patrick, involved in an earlier contact with Helio Castroneves, was the final move for Briscoe with three laps to go. Briscoe then got a slightly bigger gap to 0.93 seconds with two circuits remaining around the 2.79-mile course. With one to go, Dixon closed to 0.69 seconds, but without any traffic ahead of the leader could not get near enough to make an move.
Power was the hard luck story of the day. After dashing away to a four-second lead at the start, the day's first full-course yellow bunched the field for a re-start at lap 11 of 60. This time Power was easing off the throttle at corner entry to save fuel, given that the pit stop strategies by some teams had already begun, including his KV Racing Technologies team, which brought Oriol Servia to the pits during the caution among others.
With a gap of 1.6 seconds after six green flag laps, Power's left front glanced off the inside barrier at the esses at Turn 5, which deranged his suspension and put him out. That left the Aussie from nearby Toowoomba 0-for-3 after starting on the pole at Surfer's. "I just can't win at this place," said Power. "I hate it for the guys. We had such a good car and I was saving fuel."
The other hard luck story belonged to Justin Wilson. The Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver dropped into the pits with a gearbox stuck in third prior to the start, then stormed back to 13th before a fuel rig issue forced him to make an extra stop. He passed many of the same drivers three times before finishing in 12th. "It was a long day," he said.
Following a classic two-stop strategy, Briscoe pitted from the lead at lap 21 and Dixon followed on the next lap. Dario Franchitti then led and got caught by the day's second yellow for the schlemozzle at Turn 9 involving both Vision Racing drivers, Carpenter and Foyt, which also collected Patrick. Franchitti dropped to 14th in the queue, then caught the barrier on at the entrance to the Turn 5 esses, bringing out the third caution period.
After losing a lap, Franchitti returned to set the fastest race lap.
Those who had pitted early such as Servia topped off during the second caution to get on the same fuel strategy of the leaders. Others were not so lucky with the early pit tactics. When Patrick and Castroneves pitted at the first yellow, shortly after the restart the Penske driver's overtaking under braking at Turn 4 led to contact as the Andretti Green Racing driver turned in. Both drivers pitted; Patrick lost a lap to exchange the nose and front wing while Castroneves barely made it out in time to stay on the lead lap, then pitted for the third caution for more adjustments. He soldiered home seventh.
Ryan Hunter-Reay of Rahal Letterman Racing took third after a dice with Alex Tagliani of Conquest Racing. But 2003 Surfers' winner Hunter-Reay could not stay with the tandem of Briscoe and Dixon after getting past Tagliani on the final pit stops when each came down the pit road with 18 laps remaining. (That returned Briscoe and Dixon to the top two positions once E.J. Viso had pitted.)
It was a seemingly lost weekend for Andretti Green. The team had poor grid position for three of its four entries after using qualifying as a practice session for street events with a different set-up on each car. In the race, the fuel strategies for Patrick, then later Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh yielded little results.
Tony Kanaan carried the banner by moving up to fourth place. But his Dallara-Honda suffered a mechanical problem on the 32nd lap and was retired. E.J. Viso had an impressive showing and held the lead for one lap prior to his final stop. He rejoined in fifth -- his highest spot in the running order absent pit stops -- before Servia got by to claim the position, albeit trailing the leaders by 30 seconds.