Will Power, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe dominated last weekend’s eighteenth edition of the Surfers Paradise Indy car street race on Queensland’s Gold Coast, qualifying one-two-three. Penske driver Briscoe became the first Australian to win the race after Power inexplicably brushed the wall and crashed while leading comfortably.
Power has been on pole in Surfers Paradise the last three years and this year he beat IRL champion Dixon to it by more than a second. Power drives for KV Racing, also known as Team Australia, and Will won this year’s Champ Car swan song at Long Beach in April. Surfers Paradise last weekend was his to lose as he took control of the race and ran away from the field in the opening laps. But on the seventeenth of sixty laps, while running conservatively and saving fuel, Power threw everything away.
“I just clipped the inside wall,” said the disgusted Power. “It was a very bad mistake, very unfortunate. I was saving a lot of fuel because I had pulled such a gap. I went to saving fuel and let them close the gap back up. I wasn’t pushing hard or anything, and it caught me out. A bad mistake.
“I wasn’t really under any pressure. I knew I had the quickest car and when I pulled out a gap I said, okay, we can save a lot of fuel here and go a couple of laps longer than the other guys. But I messed up. That’s life.”
Power’s mistake handed the race to Briscoe who beat Dixon to the first turn and chased Power until his crash. Thereafter, Briscoe led the rest of the race, save for pitstops, with Dixon (below) chasing him all the way.
Dixon could catch Briscoe but couldn’t find a way by so Briscoe scored his third win of the year (he also won at Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio) in his first season in Indy cars with Team Penske. Team-mate Helio Castroneves finished seventh after damaging his car in a brush with the barrier.
“Man, what a race!” Briscoe grinned. “What a way to finish the year and kick-off into ‘09. It’s a dream for me to win in my home country. I have to thank Team Penske because they gave me a perfect car today. Scott made me work for it for sure. He was coming on strong on low fuel and I got held up a little bit with some lapped traffic but I knew I had a strong car and just had to keep it off the wall. It was just a great day.”
Former Surfers winner Ryan Hunter-Reay drove a strong race for Rahal-Letterman Racing to finish third, nine seconds behind, while Alex Tagliani took a rousing fourth place for Eric Bachelart’s Conquest team.
This was the first time the IRL has raced in Surfers Paradise after seventeen CART or Champ Car races and this year’s race was a non-championship event. The IRL doesn’t want to race in Australia in October, preferring to close its season in early September rather than trying to compete for media space with the start of the NFL season. But the Queensland government (which provides around $8 million annual funding for the race) and race organisers want to continue with the long-established late October date. Moving the date forward a month would also conflict with Australia’s national football finals.
A number of meetings between IRL and race officials took place last weekend and Surfers Paradise race chairman Terry Mackenroth said he hoped to announce a five-year contract in less than fourteen days. With Briscoe, Dixon and Power stealing all the headlines this year you would think a long-term deal with the IRL would be a mere formality. Let’s hope so.