Briscoe Wins IndyCar Season-Opener
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
A lot of uncertainty occupied the thoughts of those at Team Penske during the IndyCar Series’ off season. Not least among the unncertainty being: Would marquee driver Helio Castroneves be in the car or in jail because of tax problems when the 2009 season started?
But on Sunday, on the bumpy-bouncy streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., a bit of welcome relief came Team Penske’s way as driver Ryan Briscoe put a smooth-as-hell move on Justin Wilson during a restart with 15 laps to go to give the team a victory in the season-opening race.
“Team Penske gave me a great car today,” Briscoe said after the Honda Grand Prix. “Roger Penske calls my strategy, and it was just absolutely perfect today. This is our first race of the season, and it’s such a great feeling to kick it off with a race win.”
The move which Briscoe put on Wilson came in Turn 1. Briscoe took it in deeper than Wilson, got inside and then cleanly slid by.
“On that restart, I got out-dragged on the front straight,” Wilson said. “There’s not much you can do. You can’t block. It’s just one of those things. I was just disappointed because you can’t do any more.”
But the race was not quite bagged for Briscoe after the move. There would be two more restarts and two more shots for people to take the victory away.
“The conditions were tough and it was very tricky on restarts,” Briscoe said. “The tires would get very cold, and it would be very slippery. It was a challenge to keep it between the white lines and off the wall. I had some strong challenges from behind, but my car was very strong today, and I was able to hold them off.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay also got past Wilson and finished second. He did not get the biggest check after the race, and his trophy was smaller than the one handed to Briscoe, but the joy factor was right up there for the American driver.
He had just signed to drive with the Vision Racing team last week. His journey from seat-fitting to podium was blurringly quick.
“It’s amazing how things work out,” Hunter-Reay said. “I can’t thank this team enough. What they’ve done in seven days, not even seven days, and we’re sitting here in second place at St.Pete.”
Hunter-Reay said that although he was happy with second place while standing on the podium, he felt like going for first place when he was in the drivers seat.
“I felt like I wanted to try to take Ryan Briscoe at the end but I was also thinking long term with points and everything else,” he said. “Briscoe was certainly charging hard in the breaking zone. You couldn’t take a foot off the line without really jeopardizing your car. I kept it in there the whole time and finished well for the Vision team. We ran a good clean race.”
The finish by Hunter-Reay was the best ever for a Vision Racing driver.
Wilson finished third for the one-car Dale Coyne Racing team. That, too, was a best-ever for Coyne’s team.
Happy/sad after the race was Graham Rahal.
Rahal won the pole on Saturday and looked to have a great shot at winning the race for the second-straight year in St. Pete. He looked that way for a couple of hundred yards Sunday, anyway.
Rahal was involved in a crash on the first turn of the first lap. He had to pit for a new nose cone and it looked like his day would be the bummer of bummers.
“The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald’s team,” the 20-year-old Rahal said. “I was conservative on the start and I’m guessing it was (Tony) Kanaan that punted me. It’s absolutely ridiculous and you would expect a guy like that with experience to know it’s the first corner of the first lap of the first race of the season. Why make moves like that?”
Kanaan, who finished fifth, explained why.
“I felt sorry for Graham since he got chopped at the start and had to stop in the middle of the corner,” Kanaan said. “I didn’t expect him to be there. It was a very tough race but that is the beauty.”
Rahal spent the rest of the day moving forward, not sulking. He came home seventh.
“From there,” he said of the wreck, “it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place and I’m pretty happy with that but I think the results should have, and could have been better. Our race car was pretty good but it could have been better.”
Danica Patrick was involved in the scariest wreck of the day. She tangled with Raphael Matos at high speed and was sent spinning into a tire barrier. Her car flew to pieces on impact.
Patrick emerged unhurt but wondering why Matos attempt to pass her in a place not suitable for passing.
“It was unfortunate that the race didn’t play out the way we hoped and we weren’t able to show what the Motorola car was capable of doing,” she said. “It is just the first race so we will move on.”
Defending series champion Scott Dixon’s day ended with a crash.
The IndyCar series has next weekend off and then heads west for the race through the streets of Long Beach, Calif.
It will be a bit more cheerful two-week wait for Team Penske thanks to Briscoe. Castroneves, on trial for tax evasion in Florida, will continue to sit the season out, however.
Unofficial results of Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:
- Ryan Briscoe, Team Penske
- Ryan Hunter-Reay, Vision Racing
- Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
- Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
- Tony Kanaan, Andretti Green Racing
- Will Power, Team Penske
- Graham Rahal, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
- Darren Manning, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
- Vitor Meira, A.J. Foyt Racing
- Alex Tagliani, Rexall Edmonton Indy
- Robert Doornbos, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
- Stanton Barrett, Curb-Agajanian Racing
- Marco Andretti, Andretti Green Racing
- Dan Wheldon, Panther Racing
- Hideki Mutoh, Andretti Green Racing
- Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
- E.J. Viso, HVM Racing
- Ed Carpenter, Vision Racing
- Danica Patrick, Andretti Green Racing
- Raphael Matos, Luczo Dragon Racing
- Mario Moraes, KV Racing Technology
- Mike Conway, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing