Editor's note: This is the third of IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe's posts, which he's sharing with us this season. Questions and comments welcome.
Everyone has heard this racing cliche: Second place is the first loser. Don’t believe it. In most cases, second place is a fantastic result. After what happened in the first two races of the season, Sunday’s runner-up effort at the Grand Prix of Long Beach was exactly that for me – a fantastic result.
This finish was extremely important for everyone involved with Team Penske and the No. 6 Dallara/Honda. We executed a plan almost perfectly, got a positive result and put ourselves back in the top 10 in the championship standings of the IZOD IndyCar Series. We put the facts on paper. Now we need more of the same.
Everything about our game plan was executed with precision, from Roger Penske’s decision to bring us into the pits early before the first caution period to the choice to start the race on the primary black tires. In the end, we just didn’t have the heat in the tires to hold off Mike Conway, but we were able to bring it home in second place and score some valuable points. I’m very happy with that accomplishment.
The car was fast as soon as it rolled off the truck, and all credit for that goes to my team. We had the fastest lap of Friday’s practice sessions, and then again we were P1 in the Saturday morning session. But when it came to qualifying, I couldn’t get a lap without traffic when my tires were at their peak, so we were forced to start 12th with what we knew was a very fast car.
That’s when strategy came into play. Roger decided to start us out on the black Firestone tires – the harder-compound tires that are generally slower than the red option tires – while most teams were on reds. That meant we wouldn’t have to use the black tires later in the race (while other teams had to).
He also chose to bring us into the pits earlier than the rest of the field, which worked to our advantage when a full-course caution came out. Instead of being back in 12th place, suddenly I was leading the race. It was a brilliant call, even if it had a stroke of luck thrown in.
From there, things went quite well. I managed to lead 35 laps and held off challenges from Ryan Hunter-Reay and my teammate Will Power. All was going well until we got an untimely caution late in the race. That’s when Mike Conway roared past Dario Franchitti and myself and into the lead as both Dario and I struggled to get the temperature up in our tires.
I think I know what happened to the tires. Normally the Firestone Firehawks build heat quickly, so we don’t have to run very far before they’re nice and grippy. But I believe Dario and I might have driven through some marbles and other off-line debris as we raced into Turn 1 on the restart. When you get little pieces of rubber and dirt imbedded on the surface of the tires, it’s awfully hard to get it off. It also prevents the tires from warming up like they normally do.
Once the heat came back, though, we were fast again, running lap times as fast as Conway, but by then he was too far ahead. He ran a great race and deserved to win, but I’m extremely pleased with this second-place finish. If you saw our first two races, you know why. At St. Pete and Barber, I got caught in crashes that weren’t my fault. It was a frustrating way to start the season, especially when we knew we were fast enough to contend.
So now we have momentum, even if I’m not sure that I believe in that concept. Will it carry over to the next race May 1 in Sao Paulo, Brazil? I’m not sure. I know the car will be extremely competitive – it has been every race so far – but I’m not sure that one runner-up finish leads to another strong showing, or that it gives us some magical concept called momentum.
Maybe a better description for it is consistency, and nobody has been more consistent so far than Dario. He’s had three consecutive podiums and has the lead in the championship. That’s what we need – consistency – and we know we’re capable of it.
What this runner-up finish does accomplish is to take a bit of the pressure off our guys. We don’t feel like they have to come up with a great result like we did at Long Beach. Instead, we go to Brazil knowing we can score points. Maybe that’s the best part about getting results. The team gets an added sense of confidence with each positive finish.
That’s what we gained at Long Beach – confidence. We knew it was there, and now we’ve proven it. The pressure to perform is lifted, and we’ll be able to show what we can accomplish.
First loser? Hardly. I definitely consider it a minor victory.
More about Ryan Briscoe and his Penske team at www.ryanbriscoe.com.
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