Briscoe clinches first IndyCar win
|By Matt Beer and Jeff Olson||Sunday, June 1st 2008, 22:00 GMT|
Ryan Briscoe fended off championship leader Scott Dixon to score his first IndyCar Series race win at the Milwaukee Mile.
Penske driver Briscoe worked his way into contention in the second half of the race after falling as low as 14th early on. With 70 laps to go, Briscoe was up to third place, then overtook teammate Helio Castroneves and then Dixon (Ganassi) in quick succession to hit the front on lap 176.
After briefly losing ground to Briscoe, Dixon closed right back in and put the Penske driver under enormous pressure through the traffic in the closing laps, briefly drawing alongside on the outside on lap 220 of 225.
But when a full course yellow came out with three laps to go following a dramatic multi-car incident, Briscoe was able to clinch his maiden win and put last week's controversial Indianapolis pit lane crash with Danica Patrick behind him.
The victory was the 300th in the history of Roger Penske's race team, and also came on the 30th anniversary of Rick Mears' first IndyCar victory for Penske. Briscoe, Mears' latest pupil as an advisor for Team Penske, credited his mentor for the win.
"He's the best observer I've ever talked to," Briscoe said. "He watched me in practice and talked about lines and traffic and things to keep my eye on. I really put a lot of that to use today, especially in the closing stages with Scott. Anything that Rick Mears says is invaluable. This one goes to him.
"It's been 30 years since Roger's first IndyCar win. I can't tell you how important it is to me to get my first IndyCar victory for him in this race."
The attention Briscoe received in the wake of his tangle with Patrick at Indy focused the spotlight on the slow start to his tenure with Penske, which had so far included three crashes in the first five races.
"What we needed to do was keep the guy's confidence up," Penske said. "That's the main thing. We've got a good race driver, but you have to get to that point where you're over the hill (with the first win). Then you've got the confidence."
Dixon expressed his pleasure for Briscoe, who had been his teammate at Ganassi in 2005.
"I'm real happy for the guy," Dixon said. "Ryan definitely has a lot of talent. It's just been a strange start for him. It's just been bad luck. It's just snowballed, and he's gotten beat up by the media more than anything. That might play on the guy."
On the 194th lap, Briscoe pitted under green, a call by Penske that allowed Briscoe to pursue Dixon with fresh tyres for a longer period of time. When Dixon finally came into the pits under green on the 205th lap and Castroneves and Tony Kanaan followed two laps later, Briscoe had cycled back ahead of Dixon.
"I said, 'Let's roll the dice and come in now and get fresh tyres on the car so we'd have five or six or seven laps on fresh tyres," Penske said. "We were a lot faster, as you could see. It helped us get ahead of those guys after they pitted."
Briscoe is the 15th driver to win an IndyCar race for Penske's team.
"It's pretty special," Briscoe said. "There are some pretty big names on that list. It would have been more difficult to live with not being a winner for Team Penske. It definitely feels good to get that first win."
The yellow that stymied Briscoe and Dixon's battle to the flag was prompted when Marco Andretti's car slid up the track in Turn 1 and clipped Ed Carpenter's car, which spun and hit the wall.
As Briscoe and Dixon narrowly avoided the crash, Vitor Meira struck Andretti's Dallara and became airborne. All three drivers escaped injury, while Briscoe braked suddenly and missed the wreck, then idled around the track to win under caution.
"If I would have gotten caught up in that, I would have been under the bus crying right now, that's for sure," Briscoe said with a laugh afterwards.
"A million things went through my mind. Just before that, I was pretty comfortable. I knew how to keep Dixon behind me, and I was like, 'Let's just bring this thing home.' Then, all of a sudden, I'm seeing smoke in front of me and cars flying. I was like, 'This is not what I need.'"
Andretti had led the first 38 laps of the race from pole, before his AGR car's handling faded and he tumbled down the order. He accepted responsbility for the late crash.
"I just carried too much speed into the corner," said Andretti, who apologised to Carpenter afterwards. "I lost the front end of the car and went up into him."
Meira, who was following behind Andretti and Carpenter, had nowhere to go when they spun. His car flew over Andretti's cockpit, landing on all fours against the wall on the exit of Turn 2.
"Getting airborne wasn't that bad," Meira said. "It's landing that causes all the problems."
The only other major incident prior to the late crash was Graham Rahal's impact with the wall on lap 130. Newman/Haas/Lanigan's rookie had been running a strong third before understeering into the barriers in traffic.
Andretti Green's Kanaan passed Dixon's teammate Dan Wheldon for third in the final laps, with Castroneves completing the top five.
Oriol Servia charged back through the field to take sixth for KV Racing despite having to pit for a new front wing on lap one, with fellow 'transition' drivers Justin Wilson (Newman/Haas/Lanigan) and EJ Viso (HVM) also putting in strong runs to seventh and eighth.
"We're getting closer to the established IndyCar teams, and that is encouraging," Servia said. "But we still have a long way to go on the bigger ovals."
Patrick and Buddy Rice filled the final top ten places.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Ryan Briscoe Penske 225 laps 2. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 0.0487 3. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 1.8413 4. Dan Wheldon Ganassi + 2.9314 5. Helio Castroneves Penske + 4.6704 6. Oriol Servia KV + 14.2217 7. Justin Wilson Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 1 lap 8. EJ Viso HVM + 1 lap 9. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 1 lap 10. Buddy Rice Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap 11. Townsend Bell Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap 12. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 1 lap 13. Darren Manning Foyt + 2 laps 14. Will Power KV + 2 laps 15. Ryan Hunter-Reay Rahal Letterman + 2 laps 16. Enrique Bernoldi Conquest + 3 laps 17. AJ Foyt IV Vision + 3 laps 18. Bruno Junqueira Dale Coyne + 3 laps 19. John Andretti Roth + 3 laps 20. Ed Carpenter Vision + 4 laps 21. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 4 laps 22. Vitor Meira Panther + 5 laps 23. Mario Moraes Dale Coyne + 7 laps 24. Jaime Camara Conquest + 7 laps 25. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 96 laps 26. Mario Dominguez Pacific Coast +118 laps