Mar 12, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Few drivers had as many things go right as Ryan Briscoe did during the offseason from the last 2013 IndyCar race until the 2014 season opener.
Wife Nicole gave birth to the couple’s first daughter. Then Ryan was appointed as Chip Ganassi Racing’s fourth driver, a position opened up in the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet when Dario Franchitti was forced to retire and Tony Kanaan shifted over to the No. 10 Target-backed entry. Additionally, Ryan was confirmed as Corvette Racing’s third driver for selected TUDOR United SportsCar Championship endurance races.
Not a bad haul, at all.
“It’s like everything I wanted after I didn’t get a full-time ride last year has sort of come true now,” Briscoe said at IndyCar media day in Orlando. “It’s really the perfect scenario. Last year we sort of got to a point around this time where I was like, ‘Full-time ride is not looking good, but that’s all right, we’ll focus on doing something for the Indy 500, I’ll keep my racing up by doing the sports cars.’”
But as it turned out Briscoe’s brief career detour in 2013, after Team Penske couldn’t find the necessary sponsorship to field their third car, wound up being a blessing in disguise.
He raced a majority of American Le Mans Series races with Level 5 Motorsports, also dovetailing that with his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the team’s LMP2 class HPD ARX-03b.
He made cameo appearances in Australian V8 Supercars.
And then there was the races he did wind up doing in IndyCar, seven in all split between Ganassi’s fourth car at Indianapolis and six for Panther Racing. He wanted to keep his foot in the door, and despite the last-minute nature of many of his Panther appearances, he was determined to make a full-time comeback.
“I didn’t think I would do as many IndyCar races as I ended up doing. The end goal was I want to get back to IndyCar and have a full-time ride in 2014,” Briscoe explained. “I thought my best way of doing that was to do the sports cars last year, then work hard from that point on on being here now.
“It’s crazy. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride to get here. I had a great run with Chip at the 500 last year. John Barnes gave me the opportunity with his team at the races that I could do, which was tough because I was racing the IndyCar one weekend, then I couldn’t do the next race because I was racing the sports car, then I could do the next race which was an oval. It was just all over the place. It was really hard to get that focus.”
Because of the bouncing between cars and series, Briscoe’s results weren’t able to match what he had achieved with Penske in years past.
“In the series that’s so competitive, you need that consistency to be competitive,” he said. “But in saying that, things have worked out. I was there on the race weekends, keeping my face in front of the teams, everybody that needed to see me.”
And definitively, Ganassi saw enough to where when other options were available this winter, Briscoe was the choice.
He’ll be a solid, dependable performer as he re-acclimates back to a full-time seat. He’s reunited with engineer Eric Cowdin, who he worked with at Penske for a few years. And he’ll have the resources and data from teammates Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball to work with.
“I think (Dixon’s) just solid, man, like a rock. Even-keeled. He just gets the job done,” Briscoe said of the three-time and defending series champion. “Definitely having the continuity he’s had through highs and lows, he’s just been there the whole time.
“Tony? He’s driven for big teams, too. I’m just getting to know Tony really,” he said of Kanaan. “I think Chip knows Tony pretty well before just hiring him, so he’s pretty comfortable with him. They almost signed a few years ago, as well. I guess time will tell. He’s definitely a fun character to have around.”
Testing’s gone well for the quartet, as Ganassi shifts from Honda to Chevrolet power. Both Briscoe and Kanaan enter CGR from previous Chevrolet teams.
As for Briscoe, he’s undoubtedly a changed and improved driver from his last full-time Ganassi stint, as a then-unpolished 23-year-old rookie in 2005. Now 32 in 2014, he’ll have another chance to show what he’s learned and produce some big results.
“I’m really excited to have this opportunity,” he admitted. “It’s a huge chance to run with Chip this year. We’re working really hard on being strong. I’m working hard on being on top of my game and hopefully competitive.”
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