"I remember seeing the sky and wondering when I was going to hit the wall," recalled Ryan Briscoe of his massive accident little more than a week ago during the Peak Antifreeze 300 on Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5-mile oval.
"It was a pretty scary moment, but one where you've got to hope for the best because you're just a passenger after all. It all happened very quickly. And then the flames came," Briscoe said. There's nothing scarier than fire.
"I remember the Delphi Safety Team on the scene very quickly and I felt okay. I got the steering wheel off but couldn't work with the belts," Briscoe summoned. "I know I complained of the heat; I was feeling it and asked the Delphi crew to 'hurry up and get me out of here'!"
Ryan Briscoe's first full season of Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competition has been a big change from his former tenure as test driver for the Panasonic Toyota F1 team. The Ganassi team is much smaller and the oval circuits require a different type of input from the driver than he had been accustomed to in the past.
Briscoe "felt comfortable here from the word go because I've landed with a great team. It's been like starting over for me, coming from F1." The power and grip of the Indy car are far less than what he drove with in the past and it was "less intimidating coming over."
2005 has been one of those "character building" years for Briscoe, who has had three top-10 results in 14 races, failed to start one event due to a crash in qualifying and had accidents end seven of his contests.
Despite staying awake during the flame-laden incident Briscoe sustained a concussion, broke both clavicles, suffered a bruised lung and contusions to his arms and legs on September 11th in Joliet. He was released from Methodist Hospital on the 19th and is beginning his recovery without needing surgery to remedy his injuries.
Doctors expect Briscoe to be fully recovered in about eight weeks. "I'm feeling reasonably good, all things considered, after getting out of hospital yesterday. It won't take too long to recover and I should be able to get in a car within two months," Ryan admitted.
To speedily assist in recovery, Ryan Briscoe will head to Italy next week and place himself in the care of Doctor Ricardo Ceccarelli, with whom he's worked over the past four years. Ceccarelli has an excellent program for drivers with his type of injury and who has great rapport with Briscoe.
While he's ending his first IndyCar Series season on the sidelines, ensconced in second place in Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings, Briscoe feels the experience has "lived up to his expectations. It's been a very exciting first season and I've enjoyed it immensely. I've been able to work with a great team and I've got something to build on," despite the lack of expected results.
Briscoe did finish tenth in his first Indianapolis 500 and took eighth place in the Firestone Indy 200 on the 1.33-mile concrete Nashville Superspeedway oval. His other top 10 came on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, showing the transition from strictly road racing to oval contests has, as he stated, come fairly easily.
""We have the right equipment to get the job done and I love that track," he said of the former home of the United States Grand Prix. "It's one of the best I've ever driven, very challenging and a standout from the rest. But that's racing and I'll just get on with my recovery."
There's been quite a learning curve to his 2005 season, as Briscoe discovered how to work with his new Ganassi team, became accustomed to strategies required for oval racing, experienced his first dose of living in America and became inured to the new challenges of oval racing.
It's easy to wonder why a driver, involved in such a horrendously looking accident as the one that befell Briscoe can climb back into a car but that is the nature of the beast. "This sort of stuff happens in motor racing," Briscoe understands. "You just have to keep focused and working hard. You have to look for full recovery and get back in the car.
"The accident was tough mentally," he revealed, "especially right now when I've had one pole [on the Infineon road course] and one pole taken away. It's really tough for all of us but there's not much we can do about it. We will just keep out hopes high and work hard."
Briscoe will watch the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix from the comfort of his Indianapolis home, with his Mom (who has been here since he arrived back in this city. He had thought about attending the event but changed his mind. "I'd rather not with the disappointment of not being (driving) there."
Rather, Briscoe will rest his sore back and "just wait to heal. I'm able to make more and more movements every day and, while the swelling in the back is restrictive, it's getting better. I had to be on oxygen a few days but I'm breathing good now," Briscoe contended. "I just have to be patient."