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Ryan Briscoe finds his groove at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Ryan Briscoe's qualifying runs in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg did not go exactly as planned.

Briscoe, the defending race champion, had tire issues that plagued him the first two days. He started Monday's race in 19th position.

But Briscoe won a slippery battle of attrition, passing cars that had trouble early and eventually took the lead in lap 40. He stayed in contention the rest of the way, finishing third.

By vaulting up 16 spots from the start of the race, Briscoe made the biggest climb to the podium since the Grand Prix became an IndyCar series event in 2005. The previous best was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who moved up 12 spots to finish second in last year's race.

"Qualifying was a mess for us," Briscoe said. I think we underestimated the competition of the field. We just had the wrong tire on in qualifying.

"We knew we had a good car for the race. We had a plan for the race. We were going to do the opposite of the leaders, go off-sequence, and it worked beautifully for us. It was tricky there when it was damp, but we kept all four wheels on the island."

Keeping it dry: Grand Prix officials worked overtime to remove standing water left from Sunday's persistent rain.

"The biggest things were water and safety," Grand Prix spokesman Tip Nunn said. "We wanted to get the water off the track, but we also wanted to make sure the conditions were safe for the drivers."

Another heavy downpour came early Monday but trucks were on the track by 6 a.m. to either pump water or sweep it off. Additional concrete barriers were placed on the 13th and 14th turns as a precautionary measure.

The start of Monday' race was delayed about 20 minutes to make sure the course was dry enough to race.

"This was one element of the race that we couldn't control," Grand Prix vice president Tim Ramsberger said of the rain. "It's obviously not something we wanted, but the crowd (Monday) was bigger than we expected.

"I think everyone adjusted well. We're sorry we couldn't do some of those nice touches at the end of the race. But the race was sensational and the sun came out in the end."

Slipping and sliding: The slick conditions at the start plagued some drivers.

On the first pace lap, Milka Duno spun out on Turn 14 and was out of the race 10 laps later because of handling problems. On the first lap, Mike Conway stalled on Turn 2 and Dario Franchitti grazed the retaining wall with his front left tire on Turn 4. Both continued. Franchitti came back to finish fifth, his fourth top-five finish here.

Alex Lloyd made a pit stop after brushing the wall in Turn 10 and was finished by the 19th lap because of suspension problems.

Wheldon wipes out: Since winning the first IndyCar series event here in 2005, St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon has not had much luck in the Grand Prix.

For the second straight year, Wheldon was involved in a crash that knocked him out of the race. Monday's came in the 47th lap when he dove inside of a slowing Mario Moraes at the entrance of Turn 1. Wheldon hit the right side of Moraes' car with the left side of his, spinning into the tire barrier in the run-off area. The rear suspension of Wheldon's car appeared to fail under breaking.

"I thought we were running very strongly, had a good strategy," Wheldon said. "These things happen in motor sports racing."

Ryan Briscoe finds his groove at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 03/29/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 6:52pm]

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