TOM PUSKAR / AP Enlarge
LEXINGTON, Ohio - In the business world, many of the most profitable moves made by racing icon Roger Penske are considered "outside the box" - Penske writes his own formula instead of following the dictates of others.
At the race track, the owner of Team Penske does not hesitate to put one of his drivers "off sequence" if he thinks the strategy might produce a slight advantage. Yesterday, the tactic worked to perfection as Ryan Briscoe got his second IndyCar Series win of the season in the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, taking orders via radio from Penske.
"That was all Roger. That was his strategy," said Briscoe, a 26-year-old Australian who raced sports cars for Penske last season, but moved up to the IndyCar team this year to replace Sam Hornish Jr., who jumped into the stock car ranks in the Sprint Cup Series.
"I know with Roger calling my strategy, we'll get up to the front. Often you get yourself in those situations where something would happen, and you'd fall back in the pack. But Roger with his experience, he always finds a way to pit at the right time and get you back at the front."
The race began after the 2.258-mile natural terrain road course that twists and turns through the rolling countryside got drenched by a pair of heavy thunderstorms. The field started with grooved, wet-track tires as dictated by IndyCar
Series officials. Most of the 26 cars quickly pitted and went to the preferred slick racing tire, but not Briscoe.
After starting second behind Penske teammate and polesitter Helio Castroneves, Briscoe stayed out on the course on the slower tires and fell back deep into the pack. He came into swap tires when the rest of the field was out on the track, and again a short time later for fuel and adjustments.
Briscoe made up the time and was up near the front most of the day, and had built a huge seven-second lead when he made his final pit stop with about 30 laps to go. As the rest of the leaders cycled through the pits later in the race, Briscoe assumed the lead and ran away from the field, winning by 7.264 seconds.
"We took the gamble of pitting a bit early for that second stop to try to gain track position in case a yellow came out, because you don't lose a lap on a road course pitting under green," Briscoe said.
"That was the key stop for us because two laps later the yellow did come, and we'd already done our stop. Everyone else had to stop under yellow, and we got to the front. That was really the turning point in the race for us. From there, it was all about speed."
And Briscoe had plenty, averaging 94.873 miles an hour on the 13-turn layout. He led two long stretches of the 85-lap race, including the final 25 laps. Castroneves finished second, giving Team Penske a 1-2 sweep.
"I think that was the only chance we had," Penske said about the unique pit strategy he used with Briscoe. "What a great drive for Briscoe. I think he's validated himself now as one of the top drivers in the Indy Racing League. And, to finish 1-2, I couldn't believe when I saw what happened here a few minutes ago."
Castroneves, who is second in the IndyCar Series points race behind Scott Dixon, the third-place finisher here yesterday, was gracious about coming in as the runner-up for the fifth time this season. The two-time Indianapolis 500 champion has not won in the past 27 races.
"It was just one of those races that we were stuck behind traffic, and it was difficult to pass, but this place is always known as being very difficult to pass," Castroneves said.
"We were trying everything we could, There was not much I could do unless I tried something stupid. Second is a good place. It's another one. I'm not going to worry about winning, just worry about finishing second from now on."
Rookie Will Power was fourth, while Oriol Servia was fifth. It was a frustrating day for the Andretti Green Racing team as former series champ Tony Kanaan was seventh, Hideki Mutoh ninth, Danica Patrick 12th, and Marco Andretti 25th after being involved in a wreck 41 laps in.
There were seven lead changes and five caution flags.40.67825 -82.58288