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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Briscoe making most of second chance

Sunday, May 11, 2008

(Photo)
Ryan Briscoe has plenty to smile about this week after qualifying third for the Indy 500.
By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Briscoe made all the mistakes expected from young racers.

He was driving too fast, running too hard to bother learning the most valuable virtue in oval racing -- patience. Now the more experienced 26-year-old is recasting his image with the most prominent team in IndyCar racing, Team Penske.

Call it redemption.

"I had to learn what it took to finish races and be competitive and work on a race car during a race and be there at the end," Briscoe said Sunday, hours before practice and the second day of qualifying for the May 25 Indianapolis 500 were rained out.

"You know, I'm still working on that," Briscoe said, less than 24 hours after taking the No. 3 starting spot in this year's Indy race. "It helps to have people like Roger Penske and (team consultant) Rick Mears around. They're all about patience."

Briscoe learned what it took to be successful the hard way, by losing one of the coveted full-time jobs in the Indy Racing League and nearly dropping off the radar.

His big break, with Target Chip Ganassi in 2005, quickly turned into a disaster when he crashed seven times in 15 races and had only three top-10 finishes. Ganassi and Briscoe parted ways after the season and Briscoe spent the next two years bouncing around in different series.

In 2006, he made four IRL starts with Dreyer & Reinbold, two in the former Champ Car series and also raced in the A1 GP series and Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series, trying to resuscitate his career.

The comeback really began in 2007 when he competed full-time for Penske's team in the Le Mans Series and drove for the new Luczo Dragon Racing team in last year's Indy 500. One of that team's co-owners is Penske's son, Jay.

Briscoe qualified seventh for the race, finished fifth and drove well enough that Roger Penske decided to give the young Aussie a second chance as Helio Castroneves' teammate after 2006 Indy winner Sam Hornish Jr. jumped to NASCAR.

It's given Briscoe a new perspective on driving.

"I think I came over here and had, you know, too many accidents," Briscoe said. "I had to look back at myself and see what I needed to do to become a better driver. That doesn't stop. I think even guys like Scott (Dixon) and Dan (Wheldon) are always still looking at themselves from race to race and looking and saying 'What can I do to make myself a better racer and better driver?' I did the same."

Briscoe didn't question Penske when he withdrew his first qualifying run, which had him in fifth place at the time, and asked him to requalify late Saturday afternoon. It worked out well as Briscoe posted a better four-lap average, 226.080 mph, and moved back into the front row.

That's just the latest success for Briscoe, whose overall results in the 2008 IndyCar Series have been encouraging.

In the first five races this season, Briscoe has qualified in the top 10 four times. He's also finished ninth and seventh in the IRL's last two races.

Shaking the reputation of an out-of-control driver has proved more difficult, though.

Briscoe crashed after 126 laps in the season-opener at Homestead and, after leading 11 laps on the road course in St. Petersburg, crashed again, rekindling questions about whether he could meet Penske's high standards.

But Briscoe, and those who have competed against him, understand how difficult these past 2 1/2 seasons have been for him.

"It was a rough time for us," said Dixon, the Indy pole-winner and Briscoe's teammate in 2005. "I was lucky enough to sort of stick around and continue to be a part of the team after the bad times. I think Briscoe has been extremely lucky to get his ride with Penske, and we found ourselves both in good situations. But I think those years were tough and you learn a lot from it."

Perhaps nobody has learned more than Briscoe, a former motorcycle racer who now acknowledges he was pushing the limits too much in 2005.

Being paired again with a successful teammate, such as Castroneves, has helped.

Castroneves is a two-time Indy winner and a two-time pole-winner in the race, too. He'll start fourth, from the inside of the second three-car row, this time after getting knocked off the front row by Briscoe's risky qualifying run.

What Briscoe must prove now is that he can be patient enough to have a chance at winning the 500.

"Last year, I came in and it was more about just getting experience and having a good, solid run and not trying to be the quickest guy all the time," Briscoe said. "You know, we're going to be going for the win this year and not just hanging back, not that I was hanging back last year."

Eleven of the 33 starting positions were filled Saturday and, with Sunday's rainout, the rest of the lineup is scheduled to be filled next Saturday. That leaves next Sunday's traditional "Bump Day" for non-qualified drivers to try to knock the slowest qualifiers out of the lineup.

Practice on the 2.5-mile track is scheduled to resume Wednesday, although more rain was in the forecast.



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