As the IZOD IndyCar Series prepares for Saturday's Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, Team Penske hopes for a brighter outcome than was the case for the team last year.
Last September, Ryan Briscoe increased his championship points margin from four to 25 over Dario Franchitti and 33 over Scott Dixon following a heart-stopping victory at Chicagoland Speedway – the 200-lap race preceding Japan. This year, his teammate Will Power is the championship leader – by 17 points over Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Franchitti.
"He's just got to keep his cool and be focused, which he is," Briscoe said of Power, who will be making his debut on the egg-shaped 1.5-mile oval. "He's up for the challenge."
So was Briscoe in 2009, who started fourth in the 23-car field and led twice briefly and could have further distanced himself from the title pursuers in the season's penultimate race. But as the No. 6 car exited pit lane on lap 106, it swerved as Briscoe lit up the tires and brushed the inside retaining wall. It also ran over the cone marking the end of pit lane speed zone, which lodged under the car. After multiple stops for repairs and a front wing assembly replacement, Briscoe rejoined the race in 16th place.
"Last year was tough in Japan," said Briscoe, who left Japan trailing race winner Dixon by eight points. "We went there and Ganassi was killing us. They were a lot better than we were around there, and I'm confident this year it will be different. We've been working really hard on our setups for that track, and I'm confident we're going to have competitive cars that are capable of winning.
"It's always easier when you have a fast car and you don't have to start over-driving. That's the first thing; we need to show up with competitive cars and the rest will play itself out."
Briscoe finished third in the '09 championship – a scant 12 points behind Franchitti, which made the Twin Ring Motegi result more difficult to swallow. But it's a 17-race chase on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports, which magnifies one miscue or poor result. Conversely, Power's season – five victories, a series-record eight pole starts, only three results out of the top 10 – has put him in the spotlight from the season opener in Brazil.
"I think it's especially impressive how he's dominated on road and street courses this year," said Briscoe, who was eliminated from title contention after crashing out at Kentucky Speedway. "He's just done a really good job and gelled with his engineer, Dave (Faustino), who's also new on the team. They've turned it on and come through with the results. Will recovered well from his accident; he trained really hard over the whole off-season and made sure he was going to be up to scratch from the first race, which he absolutely was."