Briscoe Hopes Texas Pole Turns Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 4 2010

Ryan Briscoe beat the heat and the competition in Texas on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Less than a week removed from a wall-banging exit in the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Briscoe will start Saturday night’s Firestone 550k with a renewed purpose.

“I feel like I need to get this championship started,” Briscoe declared after qualifying on-pole Friday afternoon for Round 7 of the IZOD IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway. “Quite honestly, it’s been a difficult start for me this year.”

Briscoe, of Team Penske, has spent the last three races mired in seventh in the points championship led by teammate Will Power. Briscoe’s promising run in the 94th Indy 500 last Sunday ended when he crashed into the Turn 4 wall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Lap 147, moments after a spot-on pit stop. Briscoe finished a season-worst 24th…still seventh in points, 72 behind Power.

“You know, Indy was a pretty tough day,” said Briscoe, whose four-lap qualifying average of 215.273 mph around the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval nosed-out two-time and reigning Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti’s run of 215.261 mph. “Obviously, finishing in the wall (at IMS) was far from my deal. But I was just trying to do something extra to get some track position…I couldn’t just cruise around and be satisfied finishing fifth there on Sunday. I just got caught in the marbles.

“But I’ve got to put behind me what’s happened so far this year. I know I’m with a great team and I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season and hopefully working my way back up in the points.”

Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda, will attempt to do so here after bagging his first Peak Performance Pole Award at TMS, second of the season and 10th of his IndyCar career. Moreover, the Australian gave Team Penske its sixth consecutive pole _ a staggering run which includes Briscoe’s P1 start at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

“It’s an impressive stat,” said Briscoe, who has started in the top-three for three consecutive years at TMS. “The team has been doing an unbelievable job…getting us extremely fast cars.”  This is Penske’s 53rd pole in the IndyCar Series and 189th in open-wheel competition.

Ambient temperature when qualifying began at 3:30 p.m, CDT, was 95 degrees with a track temp of 131 degrees, according to Firestone Racing engineers. A field of 26 cars is scheduled to take the green flag at 7:30 p.m. for a race that will be televised on VERSUS.

Franchitti, who qualified on-pole for the season-opening street race in Brazil, posted his fourth top-three qualifying run in a bid to win his first race at TMS and cut further into Power’s points lead. The two-time and reigning series champion, Franchitti trails Power by only 11 points.

“I was a little surprised we were as quick as we were because in practice we did a qualifying sim and it wasn’t anywhere near that,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Energizer Dallara/Honda. “The boys on the Target team did a really good job coming up with a couple of tweaks for it (after practice) and that’s the result. I didn’t know how close we were to Ryan, but I guess it was pretty close at the end.”

Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda, will start third after a run at 215.158 mph. He will be joined in Row 2 by Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, after a four-lap average of 215.152 mph in the No. 9 Dallara/Honda.

Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, the defending event winner, made it a sweep of the top five spots for the Penske and Ganassi juggernauts by qualifying fifth at 214.411 mph in the No. 3 Dallara/Honda. Rookie Alex Lloyd joined the top six at 214.408 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

Rounding out the top 10 are seventh-place Hideki Mutoh (214.380 mph) of Newman/Haas Racing, Danica Patrick (214.098 mph) of Andretti Autosport, Mario Moraes (213.800 mph) of KV Racing Technology and Marco Andretti (213.785 mph), also of Andretti Autosport.

Briscoe was a hard-luck runnerup to Castroneves here last June despite leading a race-high 160 of 228 laps. A pair of late-race cautions cut into a 10-second lead enjoyed by Briscoe, who was beaten out of the pits on the final stop and finished 0.3904-seconds behind his teammate.

The Indy Racing League since has instituted a revised aerodynamic package in conjunction with Honda’s version of the push-to-pass option in a bid to improve passing and the quality of racing. Drivers will be able to use the push-to-pass button 20 times during this race for a duration of 12 seconds each time. There is a 10-second recovery period between pushes.

With all that, Briscoe said there are no guarantees anyone can replicate last year’s performances.

“Right now in this series there aren’t too many secrets and the cars are all so close. It just depends on who rolls out on race day with a very good car,” said Briscoe, whose most recent win was on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway last summer. “You know, I was able to get around Dario early (at TMS) and then we caught lapped traffic. But I just had a very good car I could run anywhere with. I don’t think I was that much quicker than those guys, it’s just that they couldn’t get around the lapped traffic and I opened up a huge lead. And I was able to maintain it for most of the race.

“Unfortunately, when we got down to the tail end, Helio had the pit-out, which is an advantage here. It’s a big advantage. And we sort of had two pit stops in a row. If it was just one yellow, it wouldn’t have been that bad because I had enough lapped cars between myself and second place. But when we came in together, the No. 3 car guys do unbelievable pit stops _ and my guys did everything right. It’s just that the time lost in getting around the car in front of me, Helio beat me out. And he had a great car to finish with.

“So, I can only hope that we roll out (Saturday night) with three Penske cars just as strong as we were last year, and we can fight it out among the three of us. Because last year was disappointing for me, but it was still an amazing result for the team.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 4 2010
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