Ganassi's 100th at just the right time
Indy car racing's return to Pocono was filled with home state themes and storylines.
Pole winner Marco Andretti and most of the Andretti family live within an hour of the facility and have long been associated with the state of Pennsylvania, making Andretti Autosport's 1-2-3 in qualifying on Saturday a perfect promotional event to opening to the race weekend. And with Sunday's race going to fellow Pennsylvanian Chip Ganassi's team, which earned its 10th win was Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti claimed an emphatic 1-2-3, the partisan crowd had plenty to celebrate.
Honda also earned its 200th open-wheel win with Ganassi's first victory since Dixon drove to victory 336 days ago at Mid-Ohio.
Cold start for Briscoe
Bravery, thy name is Ryan Briscoe.
The Panther Racing driver tested Thursday at Pocono before departing to Lime Rock to compete in the American Le Mans Series event on Friday and Saturday, and despite winning the P2 class for Level 5 Motorsports, the Aussie missed practice and qualifying for the Pocono 400. That meant he'd have to turn up Sunday morning and, without any time to readjust to driving an Indy car at speeds above 200mph, would strap himself into the No. 4 Chevy and be expected to barrel three-wide into Turn 1 on faith and talent alone.
Briscoe's experience at the track and in the car certainly helped, but the thought of trading a heavy P2 prototype on a tiny road course for a rocket-fast open-wheeler on the sprawling Pocono oval without a few warm-up laps seemed like a task for the epically brave or mindlessly stupid.
With Briscoe, it was the former.
“We wouldn't have been able to do it without the Thursday test day, but it's not the thing you want to do every weekend…” he told RACER. “Really, my focus going into today on lap 1 was to put myself mentally back where we were on Thursday. We made a few setup changes, but nothing huge. We tried to undo all I did learn and experience at Lime Rock so I wasn't spending a lot of time in the race getting my head switched on.”
The former Team Penske driver says Turn 1 on lap 1 was all it took to accomplish that critical task.
“It was crazy,” he says with a laugh. “Dario came down on my outside, then I saw Hinch spinning and everyone was checking up big time. I was just trying to keep the wheels straight and keep it rolling forward. It was a wakeup, if I ever needed one. You show up and next thing you know you're going three-wide into Turn 1… It wasn't for the faint of heart.”
Briscoe moved his way up from 19th to 11th during the race, but suffered from exiting the pits at the halfway point to find himself without a pack of cars to follow and draft.
“Without it, we weren't going anywhere on our own and burned a lot of fuel,” Briscoe explains. “Losing the main pack was tough, and without the tow, the speed was a lot slower. It was a shame. The last 60 laps or so I felt like I had a good car. Anybody I was around I could pass; if we had a yellow, I think we could have challenged for a better result. We had to do a splash-and-go at the end and lost a few position, so that hurts, but certainly the Ganassi boys started back with me in the pack and the potential was there for us. We could have been better, but it wasn't a terrible day. We just lost touch.”
Rumors circulated throughout the weekend regarding Briscoe possibly signing to drive for Panther in 2013. Whatever the future may hold for the combination, Briscoe says his experiences with the John Barnes-owned team have been encouraging.
“It's been really good. We need a little bit of continuity… It's been one weekend on, one weekend off for me because I have my sports car commitments with Level 5. It's been disjointed, and we had an engineering staff change; David Cripps was good to work with, and I'm really enjoying working with Tino Belli. I like where everything is going and hope to gain more continuity with the team in the rest of the races we do together this year.”
Seb's first day with Brown
Another engineering change took place in the paddock for Pocono, with veteran Tom Brown (looking at his driver, LEFT) taking over from Neil Fife on Sebastien Bourdais' car at Dragon Racing.
The duo qualified 12th and Bourdais was a fixture inside the top 10 until he was caught out by a yellow and, like Briscoe, was left to run on his own for a good portion of the race, which necessitated an late stop for fuel.
Those issues aside, the four-time Champ Car champion told RACER he feels the first race with Brown making the setup calls went about as well as possible, given the lack of time they've had together.
“I think for our first weekend together, it was very good with Tom,” he says. “I think it went pretty good and fast for our communication. He has a lot of experience, so it didn't take long to work together, but it will take more time to learn some things together and get the maximum from the car.
“And the result didn't reflect the potential we had. When we were running strong, I really felt like we belonged there and could stay there. The car was fairly decent in the race for the amount of time we spent on it. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out our way. The yellow screwed us in the end; we would have been one of the best Chevys at the end. It's a shame, but now we go to Toronto, which had been a place where I turn things around...”