Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Ryan Briscoe's season, like that of the third Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, has been somewhat overshadowed in 2011 by the stunning and unrelenting success of Briscoe's Australian compatriot Will Power, who dominated the pole positions and the race podiums and seemed all-but unstoppable on road courses.
Briscoe, on the other hand, had to settle for his first year at Penske without a win since he first joined the squad in 2008. That's not to say that there was any dip in his form - he had a solid year and finished second at Long Beach and in third place at Sao Paulo, Texas and Sonoma - the latter as part of a historic 1-2-3 Penske lockout of both the starting grid and then the podium for the first time in 15 years.
Otherwise, Briscoe has been mainly playing the loyal wingman to Power's championship campaign. He's also been the team's Mr Nice Guy and avoided controversy, while his team mates have launched verbal tirades and earned themselves hefty penalties with their very public complaints against IndyCar organisers and race control. Briscoe, by contrast, has just got on, got the job done and put on the perfect corporate face for the sponsors.
The cruel irony looked to be that Briscoe might have been rewarded for his sterling service in 2011 with an appointment at the job centre. With sponsorship increasingly hard to find for 2012 it seemed that Penske were going to have to step down from a three- to a two-car team next year. Clearly Penske wasn't about to drop Power, and Helio Castroneves is still a big name with a huge commercial draw for potential backers, so it was Briscoe who unfairly found himself in the potential firing line. Fortunately team boss Roger Penske was able to pull together the money in time to confirm that the same trio of drivers will be back on the grid for him after all, for their third consecutive full season together next year.
Even so, the affable Aussie will need to look at some way of distinguishing himself in 2012, which will need to be a more conspicuously successful season for him. Simply being the loyal supporting team player may no longer be enough: it looks very much as though Briscoe needs to prove that he's a real title contender next year to keep his seat any further. Let's hope he can do just that.
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
7. James Hinchcliffe
8. Graham Rahal
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand