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Briscoe edges Power to claim Sonoma Indy Car race
Ryan Briscoe leads Will Power - photo by Photo by MIKE & JEFF BURGHARDT

SONOMA - Australian Ryan Briscoe ended a two year plus victory draught by edging his Penske Racing teammate Will Power to the checkered flag in Sunday’s IZOD Indy Car GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway.

Briscoe’s rust showed a bit when he stalled the car during his victory celebration and had to be pushed to the winner’s circle.

“It has been a while since I have done one,” laughed Briscoe, whose last win came at Texas Speedway in June 2010.

Briscoe trailed Power, the race pole sitter, for the first 64 laps of the 85 lap races and seemed destined to finish behind him when his fortunes suddenly changed due to a chain of events.

Leading by more than seven seconds, Power ducked into the pits for his last stop of the day on lap 64. He lost a couple of seconds when the team had trouble with the right rear tire and just as he was reentering the race the course went to a full course yellow following a horrific crash involving Sebastian Bourdais and Josef Newgarden on the back straight.

Briscoe darted into the pits for his last time a lap later. After a perfect stop he was just able to blend in ahead of Power when Power was slowed by several backmarkers as he raced back to the pit exit blend line.

“I didn’t know where Will was, but I just kept pushing as hard as I could,” explained Briscoe. “The car was good at the end. It really came to life.”

Bourdais took full responsibility for the crash. He explained that his car picked up debris on his tires in the Turn 7 hairpin, lost control and slid into Newgarden, who smashed the tire barrier nearly head-on. Both drivers walked away although Newgarden was clearly shaken up and sustained an injured finger.

"It was a very bad impact," said Bourdais who was having his best run of the season in third place. "I don't know for sure what happened. The car refused to turn. I feel bad because it was my mistake for sure."

Power, the two-time defending race champion, lined up beside his teammate for the restart, but Briscoe was able to take advantage of his inside position to hold off Power when the race resumed on lap 74.

Andretti Motorsports driver Ryan Hunter Reay, who entered the weekend just 5 points behind Power in the season championship, was in third for the restart, but was spun out going into the Turn 7 hairpin when Alex Tagliani tried to make a mad dash up the inside. Reay was able to continue, but was relegated all the way down to 18th severally damaging his championship hopes.

After the race Reay immediately headed for Tagliani’s pit where a very heated discussion ensued.

“I raced so hard the whole day. I did everything I could to keep others behind me,” said a very frustrated Reay. “It was the usual Tagliani deal. I can’t tell you what I said to him.”

 When the race went back green on lap 77, Briscoe was once again able to keep Power at bay as he cruised to his seventh career win by almost a half second.

"We always get excited when we come to this race," Briscoe said. "For whatever reason, Team Penske cars are always strong. Will and I kind of dominated all weekend."

Defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti benefited from Reay’s misfortune to finish third, Rubens Barrichello had his best run of the season in fourth, Graham Rahal came home fifth and Helio Castroneves brought the third Team Penske entry home in sixth.

“I wanted to mix it up with them, but I couldn’t quite get close enough,” said Franchitti. “I think we had a good third place car today.”

Despite having to settle for the runner up spot behind his teammate, it was a good weekend for Power. Besides Reay’s misfortune, his other closest challenger Scott Dixon was punted by Castroneves on the opening lap and finished a distant 13th, one lap down. The team also wrapped up the manufacture’s championship for Penske.

"It's tough when you lead so many laps and have the quickest car. I got behind a bunch a guys who didn’t seem to understand that we had to get back to the blend line," Power said. “It was good day though. I love to win, but we still got the points and made the most out of the situation that it was. I can't help but be disappointed, but full congratulations to Ryan.”

Only eight driver remain in mathematical contention for the 2012 championship as the series heads to next weekend’s Baltimore Grand Prix street race. Power now holds a commanding 36-point advantage over Reay, while Castroneves moves into third 41 points back and Dixon falls to 51 points back.