Briscoe, Dixon put on one heckuva show at Surfers Paradise
The 2008 IndyCar Series championship was decided seven weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. But that didn't stop the IRL from staging arguably the most exciting open-wheel race the Gold Coast has ever seen, writes John Oreovicz.
Updated: October 26, 2008, 4:53 PM ETBy John Oreovicz | Special to ESPN.com
Maybe the organizers of the Nikon Indy 300 should consider making their headline race a non-points-paying exhibition every year.The IndyCar Series championship was decided in Scott Dixon's favor seven weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway, but Dixon and Ryan Briscoe waged an exciting duel on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia, on Sunday even though there was little more than pride at stake.
A mainstay on the CART/Champ Car circuit for the past 17 years, the Australian race was a late addition to the unified IndyCar Series schedule -- too late for it to count for the open-wheel championship.Yet amid a firestorm of controversy over whether the popular event has a future of any kind with IndyCar, two drivers with strong Australian ties -- Briscoe is a Sydney native, while New Zealand-raised Dixon was born in Brisbane -- produced arguably the best open-wheel race the Gold Coast has ever seen.Briscoe's Team Penske Dallara/Honda and Dixon's similar car run by Target/Ganassi Racing were rarely separated by more than a second during the final half of the 60-lap contest. Dixon closed right onto Briscoe's rear wing several times in the closing laps when the leader encountered lapped traffic, but Briscoe held on by 0.5019 of a second for his third victory of the 2008 season.Assuming he gets credit for the non-championship win in the record book.But lack of points aside, the victory was significant for the Sydney native in several ways. Remarkably, it was only Briscoe's third car race in his homeland, as he moved to Europe at age 15 while still racing karts."What a way to come off the year, with a win in my home country. It doesn't get any better than this," said Briscoe."It means a lot to me to win a race here in front of my family and friends, as I haven't raced much in my home country. It's a big honor to win here."The hard-earned result gave Briscoe and his No. 6 Penske team a flying head start on the 2009 season. It also sent a powerful message that the 27-year-old is ready to assume a leadership mantle at Team Penske if his more experienced teammate Helio Castroneves' career is derailed by his legal troubles."This race is important for the 2009 season, as the first two races are on street courses next year," Briscoe said. "I also had a new engineer on board -- Eric Cowdin -- and it was great having the opportunity to work with him."Briscoe qualified third, but got a good run on Dixon into the first corner on the opening lap, forcing the Target/Ganassi driver to shortcut the chicane. Indy Racing League officials ordered Dixon to cede the position to Briscoe on the second lap, by which time pole winner (and Toowoomba, Australia native) Will Power was more than three seconds up the road.
AP Photo/Mark BakerOnly in Paradise: Scott Dixon races past fans in a trackside pool Sunday on the Surfers Paradise street circuit in Australia.
What a way to come off the year, with a win in my home country. It doesn't get any better than this.
-- Ryan Briscoe
With or without championship status.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.