Ryan Briscoe leads the Chevrolets as they look to overcome engine penalties today in Long Beach (3:30 pm ET, NBCSN)
From the outside, it would appear that the 11 Chevrolet drivers have been handed INDYCAR’s version of Mission: Impossible — the difference being that they have no choice but to accept it.
After James Hinchcliffe’s engine failure in a test session earlier this week, Chevy made the call to have all of its engines for today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (3:30 pm ET on NBC Sports Network) changed. Per INDYCAR rules, these were all unapproved due to the fact that they hadn’t reached the minimum mileage of 1,850 miles and thus incurred a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid for all the Chevy drivers in today’s race.
For them, yesterday’s battle for the pole was instead a battle for 11th on the grid. One of their own, Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, did win the pole and the championship point that goes with it, but he now has to lead the rest of his Chevy compatriots out of the pack.
“We just have to go with it,” said Briscoe, who made up 10 spots to finish second last year at the Beach. “You’ve got to trust Chevrolet’s judgment in this position, and you know, the important thing is we know we have got fast cars. It is tough trying to pass, but the first thing is having the fast car and the only fact, the decision is made to make sure that we have reliable engines.
“So, you know, I 100% support them in it, and we are doing the best of a situation. We just have to see what we can make of it tomorrow in the race.”
The good news for Chevrolet is that they’ve clearly maintained their early power advantage over rival Honda this weekend despite the penalties. Five of six competitors in yesterday’s Firestone Fast Six were powered by Chevrolet (Briscoe, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, E.J. Viso and James Hinchcliffe), outnumbering the sole Honda of Dario Franchitti.
Fresh engines certainly help the cause, but a decent amount of strategy will likely be needed to make up the distance to the front — which will be occupied at the start by a pair of Honda-powered drivers in Franchitti (who was fourth in the Fast Six) and rookie Josef Newgarden (who qualified seventh in the second round) due to the penalties.
“We’ll have to look at if it’s going to be two‑stop or three‑stop,” Briscoe said. “…That might affect how aggressive people run or how much people might want to save fuel at times. I think it will depend a lot on when the cautions fall.
“There are a lot of things that could happen [Sunday]. You know, pits remaining open. There are a lot of unknowns, but I think the important thing is you’re going to want a fast car. I think as tires go off, you can pass around this place. It’s tough, though. It’s tough. You just need to be consistent and have good pit stops.”
Briscoe’s teammate, Will Power, got both of those things as he went from ninth to the win in the previous race two weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park — a feat that also appeared impossible going in at the tight Alabama road course.
Power will look to start 12th unofficially today after placing second in the Fast Six session and his aim is to come away with as many championship points as he can, which is likely the aim for the rest of the Bowtie Brigade.
“It’s days like [Sunday] that will be really important for the championship, and you know, just to get as many points as possible and not end up not finishing,” said Power, who sits third in the standings, nine points behind leader and Chevy-powered driver Helio Castroneves. “Just got to focus hard on strategy and get the most out of the race.”
Quotes used in this article were taken from yesterday’s post-qualifying press conference.