Ryan Briscoe earned headlines for all the wrong reasons with a controversial pit incident last week at Indianapolis. Today the Australian erased the negative press with a masterful drive through traffic to score his first IndyCar victory, and the...
Ryan Briscoe earned headlines for all the wrong reasons with a controversial pit incident last week at Indianapolis. Today the Australian erased the negative press with a masterful drive through traffic to score his first IndyCar victory, and the historic 300th in motorsports for illustrious car owner Roger Penske. Over one hundred of those have came in open-wheel machinery.
"It feels so good to win, my first IndyCar win, and it feels so good to do it here in Milwaukee," Briscoe said. "Ever since Indianapolis, we (Briscoe and Danica Patrick) had that get-together in pit lane, and it was really unfortunate. We were focused on this race. We knew we had a good car off of last year's results."
Briscoe not only scored Penske's 300th win, but also won on the 30th anniversary of the great Rick Mears' inaugural open-wheel triumph. The win snapped a 15-race losing spell for Team Penske dating to last year's Texas race, won by Briscoe's predecessor in the No. 6 entry, Sam Hornish Jr.
Scott Dixon, the series' points leader, finished second after leading 147 laps. This marked the fourth consecutive race he has led the most but his lone win in that stretch is Indianapolis. Usual top-five contenders Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves completed the front-runners on this day.
Mostly unnoticed by the cameras, a first-lap incident reduced Oriol Servia to a supporting role but the Spaniard fought back to a tremendous 6th- place. The KV Racing Technology driver had six previous Champ Car starts on the "Mile" and used his experience to fight back through the field. Fellow transitional drivers Justin Wilson and E.J. Viso were next up, with Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice completing the top ten finishers.
Race winner Briscoe started 11th, methodically moved through the field with a number of passes on the outside line, and held off a late race charge from Scott Dixon after taking the lead. All his hard work nearly came undone after a massive shunt in turn two, as Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti collided, and the late-arriving Vitor Meira used Andretti's machine as a launching pad, going airborne and contacting the wall for the second time in as many days.
Briscoe was barely a foot behind Meira when the accident happened, and only narrowly avoided disaster that would have denied his first win. The race finished under caution as the wreck occurred three laps from the finish.
"Well, a million things went through my mind right there," Briscoe offered. "I knew how to keep Dixon behind me. All of a sudden, I see smoke, cars flying, and I was like 'This is not what I need!' It was close though; I think it was less than a foot. I would have been in tears."
The race, feared to be a yellow-flag festival with so many cars (26) on only a one-mile oval, had only four cautions. The first occurred on lap two after a coming together between Castroneves and Servia. Servia's front wing was damaged and after dropping to the rear, his charge through the field was exciting to watch the rest of the day.
Pole sitter Andretti led early, but his car faded as the run went on. By lap 41 Dixon had taken the point and within 20 laps Andretti had dropped to 14th. A fitting second caution occurred at lap 63 for debris, allowing the leaders a chance to make pit stops under yellow.
The crowded pit lane was not entirely calamitous. Only Hideki Mutoh caused issues; as the Japanese rookie missed his pit stall the ensuing backup prevented several cars from arriving to their pits on time. No cars suffered any contact.
Dixon got a great jump off the restart and spent the middle portion of the race gapping the field and lapping traffic. The battle was behind him; Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal and the improving Briscoe were all in contention for top five positions.
By lap 131 however Rahal found the barriers. As he attempted to lap Darren Manning, his car pushed high in the marbles and had its appointment with the turn four wall. "(Manning) previously had been all over the track anyway so I was struggling to get by him," a disappointed Rahal noted.
"He moved up on the outside of Buddy (Rice), and I was going to hit him if I didn't move. Once I was in the marbles I was fully off the throttle and the brakes but I couldn't get it to turn."
Dixon's lead was not under threat until Briscoe's charge; by lap 162 Briscoe had passed teammate Castroneves for second. Fourteen laps later he made the move on Dixon into turn one for the lead, a position he didn't relinquish the rest of the day save for green flag pit stops.
Briscoe pitted prior to Dixon but had a quicker stop, ensuring he retained the lead once the cycle was complete. A hard-fighting Dixon tried, lunged and worked every conceivable line to pass him back, but was unsuccessful. One particular monster run off turn four allowed Dixon to go side-by-side down the front straight, as Briscoe struggled to pass Mutoh, put again Dixon came up short.
The final accident occurred on lap 223 as Andretti and Carpenter made contact, Meira was later caught up and Mutoh also ran over some debris from the incident. Briscoe scored his first win under the yellow flag as Dixon pulled up beside.
"(Briscoe) could really take advantage of the high line when I tried a couple of times and nearly ended up in the fence," Dixon reflected. "It was the most fun I've had in a long time, to be honest. I'm just glad it didn't come down to traffic being the deciding factor, and it almost was with Briscoe almost being taken out by those guys crashing."
Though Dixon's dominant run was for naught in terms of winning, he padded his points lead to 234-206 over Castroneves. This was Dixon's fifth top- three result in six races. Kanaan, and Patrick complete the top-five in the standings. Briscoe vaulted from 19th to 8th with the result.
Of all the notable drivers encompassing the "big three" teams of IndyCar, Ganassi, Penske, and Andretti Green, perhaps none was under more pressure to perform entering this week's race at Milwaukee than Briscoe. The Australian had crashed out of three of the first five events this season and failed to score a top-five finish.
But after today, he has added his name to the rostrum of winners for Team Penske, the 15th such member. "It's pretty special, because there are a lot of big names on that list," Briscoe said. "It's much more difficult to not be a winner for Penske. Now, let's try to collect a few more."