Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter believe the IndyCar Series has resolved its problems with processional oval racing after a thrilling Kentucky event that saw Penske driver Briscoe edge Vision Racing's Carpenter at the finish line by just 0.0162 second.
Briscoe and Carpenter went side-by-side for the final 10 laps of the 200-lap race, with Briscoe using the outside line to his advantage as the cars reached the finish line on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. The finish was the 11th-closest in IndyCar Series history, and its first sub-0.02sec margin since the season finale last year at Chicagoland Speedway.
The race was the first under new aerodynamic and power changes that revived an oval season that had been lackluster. Drivers used push-to-pass technology that allowed them 15-second bursts of extra horsepower, as well as several aerodynamic changes that helped the cars race side-by-side.
"Up until now, you could get within about two or three car lengths of someone and your car would get loose and you would have to get out of the throttle," Briscoe said. "Now, you can run down under people and get aggressive. That's what made the racing so good. The aero changes, the tires, the push-to-pass -- I don't think you can put your finger on one thing that made it better. It's always going to be a combination of things."
The race was also remarkably clean, with only one caution period. The average race speed of 200.893 mph was the second-fastest in IndyCar history.
The victory put Briscoe back in the IndyCar Series points lead after 12 of 17 races, eight points ahead of Scott Dixon and 11 points ahead of Dario Franchitti.
"The win is important," Briscoe said. "We're very well rewarded with a win in this points system. It's been a while coming. I haven't had an oval win since Milwaukee of last year. We'd been leading laps and running up, but we hadn't been getting the job done. This was very important for me and the entire team."
The way he won was important to the Indy Racing League, which addressed aerodynamics and added the push-to-pass feature after several dull, single-file oval races this season. The aerodynamic changes, including a major change to the main wickerbill on the rear wing and changes to the sidepod area in front of the rear wheel, allowed cars to run side-by-side more easily than they had in previous races.
"Nobody knew if the changes were going to work, but they did," said Carpenter, who recorded the best finish of his career. "Tonight it did. I hope the fans enjoyed it, because we've had some races this year that weren't so good."
Likewise, Carpenter's runner-up finish was a major boost for Vision Racing, whose owner, Tony George, recently was ousted from his role as CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and declined to continue as CEO of the Indy Racing League.
"This is definitely the most fun I've had in a long time," said Carpenter, George's stepson. "This hasn't been a very good year for the team, and it's been a rough couple of months for my family."
Once Briscoe made a move around the outside of Carpenter on the 191st lap, the two stayed in that formation until the finish.
"It was so close," Briscoe said. "I was thinking, 'I don't want to touch wheels with Ed Carpenter here.' It started getting closer and closer. I don't know if I've ever been so excited crossing the finish line. It was very hard-fought out there."
At times, Carpenter tried to push Briscoe to a higher line, but at the end he decided not to attempt to go any further.
"I'd rather finish second than crash someone trying to win a race," he said. "I'd tried everything. If I would have tried to run him up the track anymore, it wouldn't have gone well. I try to race people as clean as I can. It doesn't do any good to race dirty."