IRL: Briscoe confirmed at Ganassi

Chip Ganassi confirmed today that Australian Ryan Briscoe will be the third driver on his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team that will attempt to take a second driving championship in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series over a 17-race campaign.

Ryan Briscoe.
Photo by Toyota Racing.
The news that Briscoe signed a multi-year contract has been bandied about for the past month, but it was not made official until today that the 23- year-old Sydney native will drive a #33 Target Panoz/Toyota/Firestone challenger as teammate to 2003 IRL champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand and Briton Darren Manning, marking his second year in the IndyCar Series with Ganassi's team.

"We looked at what our competition was doing and at the number and quality of cars they're putting up and realized we had to step up and get the job done this year," Ganassi noted. "We talked with Ryan about four or five years ago and knew he was a talent," he said. "Ryan was at the top of our list but we were unsure we could get him."

Briscoe spent the past season working with Toyota's Formula One team as primary tester after competing and winning in F3 and F3000. He has been a Toyota driver for much of his career and Ganassi's team was a good fit. Briscoe, in fact, passed up the opportunity to drive for Jordan F1 in the 2005 Formula One season, believing there was more opportunity to run in the IRL.

"I came because of the professionalism of this team. It's a better option for my career and I am one hundred percent convinced I'm going in the right direction. In the future, perhaps," he might return to F1 and compete, "but I am very happy to be in the IndyCar Series and looking forward to racing in the Indianapolis 500."

What Ganassi looks for in his drivers is the "sixth man attitude, that one intangible" that makes a great driver. "Ryan energizes our team and you can't buy that." Chip Ganassi is well known for his talent in choosing drivers who meld with his team and believes he learned a good deal about relationships during the 1996-1998 period when he had Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi winning everything in sight in the former CART series.

"When guys get along you get speed. I want drivers who will fight it out for the lead and work together [at the same time]. There's speed in that," he proclaimed. "Ryan has experience in varied open wheel cars, he has testing experience and he's a nice guy. He's also a student of the sport, interested in cars and how they work. He doesn't just get in and work the pedals," Ganassi explained.

"Our team is going to try and get him to the front in IRL," Ganassi declared. "It's a small world in terms of the talent pool [in top professional motorsports] and I don't care where a driver comes from. He can come from Mars for that matter but if he wants to be part of a good team, we want him.

"At this level," Ganassi continued, "all drivers are fast, so we try to dig deeper and peel back more of the onion. What's he made of? We look for race car drivers and there's a huge difference. We want to find drivers who like to pass cars and who have a working technical knowledge. There are minute changes that personalize a car," he said.

Ryan Briscoe.
Photo by Toyota Racing.
While Briscoe was at the top of his list, Ganassi looked at a lot of shoes in making the decision to pull Briscoe from the European theatre where he'd been working the past few years. "We meet drivers who are racers and they're the ones we like. It doesn't matter where they come from as long as they want to race, do well and be part of a team."

Briscoe received his first taste of the machinery inherent in the IndyCar Series back in November when he spent two days testing both the road course and oval in Phoenix. He then took part in Toyota Racing Development's single test date at Sebring in December.

"The setup and general feeling are the same. It's just another race car with four wheels," Briscoe admitted. "The [precise] setup and physical demands may be different" from one car to another but, "in the end it's just another race car."

Briscoe felt, from the first that he fit in with the Indianapolis-based Target Chip Ganassi Racing squad. "It's hard to explain, but we all have the same ambitions and want to get the same things out of the job. This is a good environment; it just feels good. I have a lot to learn," he emphasized, "but from the first impression it just felt right." After spending time with Dixon and Manning, "I think we'll have a good year together."

Looking forward this week's open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the Indy cars will spend two days on the road course and a single day working on the oval circuit that hosts the season opening Toyota Indy 300 at March 6th, Briscoe realizes he has no oval race experience but "I just want to see how oval racing works.

"The strategy is, once I'm comfortable in the car and work well with the guys and get some miles under my belt, I don't think I'll have problems. I'm really looking forward to it; it's all very exciting and a new direction for me. The fact that I've never raced on an oval did not affect my decision," he emphasized. "I came because this is a professional team and an opportunity to succeed" in a very, very different discipline from what he knows.

There must be something in the water down under, for now Chip Ganassi has both an Aussie and a Kiwi - together with a Briton - on his formidable team for the 17-race 2005 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season. And Ganassi, unaccustomed to failure intends to regain the top slot of the podium with his new trio of drivers.