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The Briscoe choice is good for Ganassi, but decidedly “meh” for IndyCar

Dec 13, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

Indianapolis 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

“More than 50” suitable names reached out to Chip Ganassi for a chance to fill the vacant seat left by Dario Franchitti’s enforced retirement.

When all the dominos fell, and the announcement revealed, the confirmation was that Ryan Briscoe would take over the fourth seat at one of IndyCar’s two most successful teams.


A disclaimer first: I like Briscoe. He’s quick, unselfish, good with fans, one of the nicer drivers in the paddock, and a Green Bay Packers fan. These are things I appreciate from a media perspective.

I even wrote an opinion piece in 2012 for a past employer arguing Roger Penske could have kept him over Helio Castroneves if Penske dropped down to two cars for 2013. I based that on Briscoe’s head-to-head stats versus Castroneves in the three years the team had three cars, although Will Power crushed them both by comparison.

But Castroneves won Indy three times, and Briscoe won seven total races in five years with Penske. There’s your answer. And Briscoe, like Castroneves, and like Power, has failed to deliver “The Captain” an IndyCar championship anytime in the last seven years.

Briscoe has had, you could argue, three distinct shots at the big time in IndyCar. His first was a challenging rookie season with Ganassi in 2005, when the team’s Panoz-Toyota equipment wasn’t up to par. Then Briscoe exited after a fiery accident at Chicagoland; we were all thankful he’d recover, but it was a big career setback.

The second was at Team Penske, replacing Sam Hornish Jr. after he departed for NASCAR at the end of 2007. Briscoe’s starring part-time roles in 2006 and 2007, plus sports car races for Penske, pushed him into the seat. But outside of a handful of truly great drives, and a critical error at Japan in 2009 that cost him that year’s title, Briscoe was largely overshadowed in five years with Roger Penske’s squad.

Penske dropped him but guess who came back calling RB for Indianapolis this year: Ganassi, for the team’s fourth car. And there, Briscoe put in a fair effort but it didn’t seem the team had the setup or the power to keep up with the rest of the field. A thoroughly forgettable performance, really, because you very rarely remember who finished second in the Indianapolis 500, let alone 12th.

The carousel of Level 5 in sports cars and Panther Racing in IndyCars from there seemed a very odd strategy. By trying to do both it almost seemed as though the focus was on neither, and a further setback followed with his wrist injury suffered at Toronto that cost him seat time in both.

Briscoe’s 2013 season left him in an odd position heading into the offseason. He’s certainly good enough to merit an IndyCar seat, perhaps one of the six or seven best drivers in the series. If he was thrust into a mid-pack seat, he could help lift the performance of said operation or a young driver alongside. Imagine Briscoe and Josef Newgarden at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, or Briscoe and Graham Rahal at RLL Racing, for instance. A great mix of veteran experience and youthful potential could be a benefit to all.

But, frankly, we know what Briscoe can do in top flight machinery. Seven wins in nearly 100 starts with Ganassi and Penske isn’t bad, but it’s hardly the maximum of what could be achieved with those outfits. Seven wins with the lesser Dale Coyne, Newman/Haas Racing and RuSPORT teams, by contrast, is why Justin Wilson is held in such high regard by almost the entire paddock.

Perhaps Briscoe isn’t a bad choice to meet the objectives Ganassi seeks: supporting Dixon, good technical feedback and a familiarity with the branding and marketing goals associated with Target and now, NTT Data. Fair enough. And to be fair, drivers like Wilson aren’t available at the moment and would require a buyout. Wilson admitted as such on Friday:

Still, the storylines of a fresh face at Ganassi – one of these “more than 50” candidates – could have done wonders for the team and series. Whether it was a veteran like Wilson, Oriol Servia or Alex Tagliani in a top flight ride for really the first time, a young American like a Newgarden (with a buyout), JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly or Sage Karam, or even an F1 refugee like Paul di Resta, you had the potential there to generate a wider buzz.

In an offseason where Penske has stolen the PR blitz with Juan Pablo Montoya returning to open-wheel for the first time in eight years, Ganassi has gone with the safe, tried-and-true Briscoe. He’ll be dependable, but he likely won’t do anything to get people talking beyond the people that already do in and about IndyCar.

The Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer said of the series’ challenging weekend in Houston this year, “That’s so IndyCar.”

So is this.

  1. uplander99 - Dec 13, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    You what is “meh”, NBC’s coverage of F1 and Indycar.

    How about someone who doesn’t scream at us on both broadcasts. I’m looking at you Leigh Diffy.

    How about someone who doesn’t feel the need to prove her encyclopedic driving talent, at least in her head, but not on the track. Hello Pippa Mann.

    How about treating the people who wake up at 6am, or stay up to 4am the next race like intelligent F1 fans instead of rubes who’s remote broke while channel surfing infomercials.

    Chip Ganasi is not running a driver nursery or competing for a favorite driver award, he made the best choice to win.

    • Jeff - Dec 14, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      I’d say the best driver available was di Resta, not Briscoe.

  2. Jeff - Dec 14, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    I agree with this:
    Whether it was a veteran like Wilson, Oriol Servia or Alex Tagliani in a top flight ride for really the first time, a young American like a Newgarden (with a buyout), JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly or Sage Karam, or even an F1 refugee like Paul di Resta, you had the potential there to generate a wider buzz.

  3. webstermon - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    “Alex Tagliani in a top flight ride for really the first time” What a load. The guy was at Players Forsythe in CART and got a grand total of zero wins. He shown what he can do in a top ride, less than Briscoe.

    • Tony DiZinno - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      Arguing that Player’s/Forsythe is on the level of a Ganassi is a rather fruitless one, to me. They ascended to the top of the heap only once the “Big 3″ all shifted from CART to IRL.

      Additionally, the year Carpentier won races as his teammate, they had the then-inferior Reynard chassis compared to the then-better Lola and Toyota or Ford package. If you really want to play devil’s advocate, Tag won his only career race with Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports team, which no other driver managed to do.

      Tag was in position to win several races in his Forsythe days before mechanical issues. That he didn’t deliver when he was a series sophomore more than a decade ago, compared to a guy who has more front line chances, should not have immediately canceled him out of contention this time around. Just my .02 though.

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