Ryan Briscoe took advantage of a surprising pit strategy on the way to a victory in Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car course.
Team owner Roger Penske made the call to put Briscoe out of sequence with the other contenders and it paid off with the Australian driver's second victory of the season and a 1-2 sweep for the team with Helio Castroneves finishing second.
The race began about one hour after a downpour soaked the 2.25-mile, 13-turn road circuit, leaving puddles in places. IndyCar officials ruled it a wet start and all the cars had to begin the race on grooved rain tires.
But, with the sun shining and the track drying fast as the 26-car field took the green flag, cars quickly began heading for pit road to change to racing slicks. The Penske team waited to bring Briscoe onto pit lane until lap six, dropping him all the way to 16th.
"Team Penske was just awesome," Briscoe said. "We ran into a bit of trouble early on and there was a chance we stayed on a bit too long there. That was all Roger (Penske); that was his strategy."
With little to lose, Penske brought Briscoe back into the pits again on lap 23, ahead of most of the other contenders, putting him completely out of sequence and, eventually working to his advantage.
"I think that was the only chance we had," Penske said. "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."
It's the eighth 1-2 finish and first since 2005 at Phoenix for Penske, whose team has now won seven times at Mid-Ohio, including six in the old CART series that later became Champ Car and was absorbed into the IndyCar Series in February.
The rain never returned, but the early pit stops and several spins and crashes in the early going turned the 85-lap event into a messy race, with a lot of differing strategies.
But the 26-year-old Briscoe, who led a race-high 43 laps, was in the best position throughout, taking the lead when the other leaders pitted on lap 39, making his final stop on lap 55 and then regaining the lead for good on lap 60 as the other leaders made their final stops.
"Ryan got lucky on his strategy and drove a great race, opening up an 11-second lead," said Castroneves, still winless this season. "That's it. There was nothing we could do. Second's a good place. Another one. I'm not going to worry about winning, I'm just going to be happy with second for now."
Defending race winner and series points leader Scott Dixon finished third, followed by Will Power and Oriol Servia, teammates at KV Racing Technology and two of the nine drivers transitioning from the defunct Champ Car World Series to the newly unified IndyCar.
Dixon will head to the temporary street circuit at Edmonton next week holding a 58-point lead over Castroneves, with Tony Kanaan, who finished seventh Sunday, 90 points behind in third. Dan Wheldon, Dixon's Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was caught up in a crash midway through the race, wound up 17th and fell to fourth in the series standings, one point behind Kanaan.
"I wouldn't say it's huge fun, trying to keep tabs on where people are, the people you're chasing for a championship," Dixon said of Sunday's messy race. "That's the deal, though. It's not all about going out and winning races, it's about having consistency, finishing races and making the next one (a better) situation."
There were five full-course caution flags and a lot more local yellows in the race, most of them brought out by harmless spins into the wet grass or sand traps.
The biggest incident of the day came on lap 43 just as the green flag was being waved for a restart.
Coming off the final turn, Mario Dominguez, who had spun off the track twice — once after his rear wing broke — touched wheels with Justin Wilson. Wilson spun and Wheldon, A.J. Foyt IV and Marco Andretti got caught up in the accident which ended Andretti's race.
Source: AP News