In the first installment of 2009 season diaries from the Penske Racing IndyCar Series drivers, Ryan Briscoe talks about the best season of his career, driving the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda.
By Ryan Briscoe
This past season was the best of my career even though I fell short of the IndyCar Series championship. If nothing else, it was a breakthrough season for me as I was able to run consistently at the front of the field and be a constant contender for the title. That was great.
It felt good to be able to run strong at all the tracks this season. With three drivers separated by just eight points heading into the final race of the season at Homestead, we knew it was going to be hard for two of the three knowing that only one could win the title. Dario Franchitti did a great job but I think we can hold our heads up pretty high.
The tone for our 2009 season was actually set in October 2008 when I won the race at Australia. That race didn't pay any points but it really helped our street course program because we were starting the 2009 season on two consecutive temporary circuits. It was a hard-fought race in Australia and that win was a pretty big personal achievement because it was at a track where I had grown up going to as a fan. That was a big boost for us and allowed us to come out charging in 2009.
When you race for Roger Penske, you are expected to contend for a championship and win races. But the best reward is when Roger comes up to you after a race and congratulates you and gives you his compliments. We got plenty of them this year. There were some races where we didn't run too well and made some mistakes and they add up, but none of us had the perfect season this year and I know it's something that I will use to build on for the future.
This season, we found a few circuits where we need to focus more attention on for 2010. But for the most part, we worked well as a team, were well prepared for each race and executed well on strategy..
The biggest thing for me in the spring was the Kansas race, our first event on a 1½-mile oval this year. I led a lot of laps and had a great race, which was good because it was a track where we had been lacking last year. Kansas gave us a lot of confidence and it reinforced to all of us that we were going to be real contenders for the championship. I think we had the strongest car there and were probably unlucky not to win that race. We got caught out on pit lane, the yellow flag came out and we had to make an extra pit stop. Despite our end result, that race really showed we were going to be strong on tracks where we were weak last year and that gave us a lot of confidence.
At Indianapolis, the team dominated the whole month. Ganassi was strong in the race but Helio Castroneves came through and won the ‘500.' I didn't have the best of races but we were contenders and that's always a race where you at least want to be running at the end.
After Indianapolis, the schedule really picks up with races nearly every weekend. I was really enjoying it because I was gaining a lot of points. I would be working my way up and then we had a mishap in Richmond at the end of June and I lost a lot of points, which forced us to play catch-up again.
But I enjoy the schedule. I like racing every week. I get bored or frustrated when we aren't at the racetrack. For me, it's great when we have our busiest time of the schedule.
At the end of August at the Chicagoland race, the schedule hit a lull. The lead-up to Japan was long and hard for me, maybe because I had the lead and was over-thinking things too much. After Japan, there was so much focus and determination going into Homestead that time went by pretty quickly. I spent a lot of time with the engineers. We tested at Homestead, worked at the shop and then came back for the race. It was good that we had a couple weeks off heading into the last race because we needed it to prepare.
It was really close going into Homestead and that kept the pressure on Scott Dixon going into the last race because he was the leader. He couldn't just think about finishing second, because he felt as much pressure to win it as Dario and I did. It was a good situation going into the last race but none of us expected it to go the distance without a caution period; and unfortunately fuel strategy determined the outcome.
My rookie season in 2005 was difficult but I don't worry about that too much. Hopefully, I've redeemed myself in a lot of ways. It's been a great year and it would have meant a ton to win the championship but I'll be even stronger next year and hopefully we can do this again.
It's great that Roger Penske had enough confidence in me to hire me for the ALMS team in 2007 and then the IndyCar team in 2008. There were a lot of non-believers when Penske hired me. A lot of people asked, ‘Why are you hiring him?' I hope that I have now proven that he made the right choice. I'm continuing to improve and I'm still learning. I made some mistakes this year but hopefully we'll have a long future together.
This season boosts my confidence for the future. This was for sure my best year and I think we can be really proud. The team is behind me and we are really excited for next year.