No other Australian driver has ever managed to achieve the coveted feat, but Sydney’s Ryan Briscoe has delivered a flawless performance to become the first-ever Australian driver to win the Surfers Indy 300.
The Team Penske driver posted his third win of the season in a relatively uneventful race to take the chequered flag ahead of former Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon. American Ryan Hunter-Reay, a former winner here on the Gold Coast, completed the podium with a solid third place effort as crowd favourite Will Power again failed to capitalise, despite an impressive qualification effort which had earlier rewarded him with his third straight pole position start in as many years.
A spate of race disappointments over the past couple of years, despite impressive showings in most practice and qualifications sessions, has many pundits questioning whether the Toowoomba-native has what it takes to deliver the goods at his home race here in Southern Queensland,
After executing a near-perfect start the Team Australia driver strode away from the front, dictating proceedings during the opening 16 laps at the unforgiving 4.47-km sundrenched temporary street circuit. With the burden of more than 94,000 predominantly clad green and gold fans in attendance, and the added weight of an entire sports-crazy nation resting squarely on his shoulders, Power made – in what he later self-described as – the worst-ever mistake of his entire career when he clipped the inside concrete barrier on the exit of the beachside Bartercard chicane.
The impact ended Power’s day and with it all hopes of that elusive Surfers Indy title that he so desperately craves as his Honda-powered Dallara limped precariously through the back part of the circuit, crippled with heart-wrenching suspension damage that instantly placed his aspirations for the title on hold for yet another year.
"Obviously, I''m very disappointed," claimed a shattered Power.
"You could see how fast we were at the start of the race. Then I backed off to save a lot of fuel, not pushing hard and then got caught out and clipped the inside wall and ricocheted into the next one. It was a really bad mistake, the worst of my life.
"I want to thanks all of the KVRT Team Australia for all their hard work this weekend. They really gave me a great car, and it''s a shame we could not finish the race."
As the news of Power’s early exit began to sink in fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe inherited the lead, with Trans-Tasman rival, and newly-crowned 2008 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon hot on his heels as the pair paced the field through to the first of two scheduled pit stops.
A multi-car melee, involving Graham Rahal, E.J Viso, Danica Patrick and A.J Foyt IV, shortly after the first round of pit stops had cycled through ensured that Briscoe’s steadily increasing lead would be negated with the pace car now deployed. But unlike his fellow compatriot Will Power, Briscoe held his nerve throughout the mid-sector of the race that included a number of caution periods and ensuing restarts to certify that the former Toyota F1 protégé controlled proceedings.
In a race that produced a number of individual battles for positions, Alex Tagliani, having jumped from seventh spot on the grid to now be seated third, struggled to keep former Surfers Indy race-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in check as the pair were locked in an enthralling campaign with a potential podium finish at stake.
A prospective disaster was narrowly avoided as the two entered pit lane on Lap 41 nose-to-tail. As the combating duo approached the speed-limiter mark, Hunter-Reay was dealt a nervous moment as the two made slight contact when Tagliani appeared to brake sooner than Hunter-Reay had expected. Upon the completion of their final service it was Hunter-Reay’s crew who completed their duties slightly quicker than that of Tagliani’s, allowing the Rahal-Letterman ace to rejoin the field ahead of Tagliani in third place.
Impressive rookie E.J Viso was another to have his mirrors filled as Power’s Aussie Vineyards’ teammate Oriol Servia attempted to steal fifth place from the diminutive, but talented Viso. Eventually Servia did get by but Viso was not without his fans as the likeable Venezuelan won the crowd over with his aggressive driving style, with some even dubbing him as ‘the new Paul Tracy’.
Up front Briscoe continued to hold the charging Dixon at bay throughout the tightly-fought contest as both drivers pitted for the final time. Briscoe maintained his stranglehold over Dixon by exiting the pits first and began to re-establish his dominance over the current series champion.
By the time the final round of pit stops had played through Briscoe was buoyed by a healthy 2.335-second lead over the second-place Dixon, and with just ten laps remaining the likelihood of the first Australian atop of the podium in 18 attempts at the iconic race was starting to take shape.
But as with all 17 previous races run at the fabled upper-Gold Coast precinct – an unsuspecting twist is never too far away.
As Briscoe revelled in a clean track for the most part of his formidable run, a final challenge was thrown in his path as he began to encounter lapped traffic ahead – most notably the luckless Motorola-sponsored car of Danica Patrick.
With just on five laps shy of an impending maiden Australian victory, Dixon shredded almost a full second from Briscoe’s once-healthy lead as the Penske driver struggled to find a suitable part of the track to securely pass the hapless Patrick.
Eventually he did manage to pass safely, but suitable damage had been created as Dixon eradicated more than half of Briscoe’s seemingly-unassailable lead. Dixon then set about applying constant pressure as he easily accounted for Patrick and proceeded to set his sights on Briscoe.
Pressure continued to mount as Briscoe called on every ounce of his diverse racing knowledge to ward off Dixon’s relentless effort, but it was Briscoe who remained flawless through to the end of the 60th and final lap to take the chequered flag by a mere 0.5019 seconds over Dixon.
"It means almost a million points to me," said Briscoe, who recorded his third victory in his first season driving the No. 6 Team Penske car.
"I''m just so happy for all the fans. It was a great event and we''re going to turn up the wick tonight. It''s really special. It''s a great place to have an IndyCar race."
"We had some good restarts and pit stops, didn''t make any mistakes and that was the key thing today. I have to give credit to the guys at Team Penske. My new engineer Eric (Cowdin) did a great job all weekend."
Dixon’s second-place finish ensured that the fans were treated to a real showpiece and the 2008 IndyCar Series champion was more than complimentary towards his former teammate in Briscoe.
"I think Briscoe definitely is a huge talent and we saw that today," complimented Dixon.
"The guy is very fast, he can hold races together and we were very close in the fact that he was my team mate (Ganassi Racing 2005), he was very quick when he was my team mate so he is going to be tough to beat."
Ryan Hunter-Reay impressed highly on and off the track throughout the entire weekend and was a most deserved recipient as he rounded out the podium in third place. Alex Tagliani scored a Conquest Racing season-best finish in fourth place as Oriol Servia crossed the line a spot further with the impressive Viso complimenting the top six finishers.
Unofficial results of the Nikon Indy 300
1 Ryan Briscoe (6) 3 --.---- --.---- Running
2 Scott Dixon (9) 2 0.5019 0.5019 Running
3 Ryan Hunter-Reay (17) 5 9.1179 8.6160 Running
4 Alex Tagliani (36) 7 19.9844 10.8665 Running
5 Oriol Servia (5) 15 20.4376 0.4532 Running
6 EJ Viso (33) 10 1 lap 1 lap Running
7 Helio Castroneves (3) 6 0.6528 0.6528 Running
8 Hideki Mutoh (27) 16 20.2614 19.6086 Running
9 Graham Rahal (06) 13 42.8155 22.5541 Running
10 Vitor Meira (14) 11 52.6417 9.8262 Running
11 Buddy Rice (15) 22 54.6887 2.0470 Running
12 Dan Wheldon (4) 18 55.4463 0.7576 Running
13 Justin Wilson (02) 9 55.5290 0.0827 Running
14 Marco Andretti (26) 14 1:00.6552 5.1262 Running
15 Bruno Junqueira (18) 17 1:25.0778 24.4226 Running
16 Dario Franchitti (10) 4 2 laps 1 lap Running
17 AJ Foyt IV (2) 24 1:21.4874 1:21.4874 Running
18 Danica Patrick (7) 23 1:23.8408 2.3534 Running
19 Ed Carpenter (20) 19 3 laps 1 lap Running
20 Jaime Camara (34) 20 1:06.0678 1:06.0678 Running
21 Tony Kanaan (11) 8 26 laps 23 laps Mechanical
22 Will Power (8) 1 44 laps 18 laps Off Course
23 Townsend Bell (23) 21 52 laps 8 laps Contact
24 Mario Moraes (19) 12 53 laps 1 lap Off Course
<table border="0" align="left" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tr><td><img hspace=5 vspace=5 src="/cart/article_imgs/Briscoe Surfers.jpg"></td></tr><tr><td>Ryan Briscoe became the first Australian driver to win the Surfers Indy race
Photo – Michelle Feilberg