Photo: Chip Ganassi Racing

Ganassi confirms Briscoe for No. 8, Kanaan for No. 10 seats

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Ryan Briscoe has been confirmed Friday as Chip Ganassi Racing’s fourth driver for the 2014 IndyCar season, although not in the No. 10 Target Chevrolet as had been forecast over the last week or so. Coupled with new baby Finley, born a few days ago, it’s been quite a week for Ryan and wife Nicole.

Instead, the Australian will run the same livery and number as he did for CGR in this year’s Indianapolis 500: the No. 8 NTT Data entry now with Chevrolet power instead of Honda. Tony Kanaan, who had been slated for that car and had additional Brazilian sponsors to help, will instead shift into the No. 10 Target car as Dario Franchitti’s replacement. The announcements were formalized at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis.

Briscoe returns full-time to IndyCar for the first time since 2012, when funding failed to materialize to stay in Roger Penske’s third car. He spent five full seasons with Team Penske, where he won all seven of his races, and nearly the 2009 championship. He spent his first full season in IndyCar with Ganassi in 2005, but the team’s equipment was under par and Briscoe had a wealth of learning to do as a rookie.

It’s a multi-year deal and another opportunity for Briscoe in one of the most prized rides in IndyCar.

“This is just great news and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the No. 8 car again,” Briscoe said. “We built some great chemistry during the month of May this year with the whole crew. I think all four drivers can win races next season and it’s not every day you get to be a part of a team like that. For me personally it’s been an amazing last few days – this announcement coupled with the birth of our first child just a few days back. I couldn’t be happier right now.”

Ganassi added that Briscoe’s experience, technical expertise and prior familiarity with the team were the reasons he was the best available candidate.

“Honestly, it is always refreshing when you have partners that get the big picture and both Target and NTT DATA both understand that,” he said. “This is the best of both worlds. We not only get the driver that we wanted to add to our team in Ryan Briscoe but in addition we are able to put them in the cars that I felt were the most appropriate. The news couldn’t really be better for all of our teams.”

Kanaan, meanwhile, will take on the role of replacing Franchitti in the No. 10 Target car.

“I’m extremely excited, but this is a very bittersweet day for me as many of you know,” he said. “On one hand I’m driving for the Target Team and couldn’t be more thrilled about the possibilities for next season. On the other hand I’m taking over the seat my good friend Dario had to leave. I was looking forward to reuniting with him more than anything as a teammate. I want to thank NTT DATA, Target and TNT Energy drink for looking at the big picture and making adjustments so that Scott, Ryan, Charlie and I can go out and get the job done for all our partners on track next season. The teamwork that has been shown here is a true reflection of Chip’s style as an owner. I can’t wait to get started.”

These two are the team newcomers alongside Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target car, and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk CGR entry. While Dixon and Kanaan will be based in Indianapolis, the Briscoe and Kimball entries will be operated from the second CGR shop in Brownsburg.

Kanaan also brought his longtime engineer Eric Cowdin with him to Ganassi, while the No. 10 engineering post has long been held by Chris Simmons. Simmons and Franchitti, obviously, worked wonders together. Engineering announcements will be confirmed shortly, and this post updated at that time.

Here’s Kanaan’s new get-up in Target gear:

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.

Nick Tandy is on a ridiculous roll of form of late

Tandy (second from left) is on a roll. Photo: Getty Images
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With the international sports car season nearing its conclusion after a few more FIA World Endurance Championship and other international GT championship events, the question begins to be asked who might be the driver of the year.

There’s a British driver who’s pretty much firmly got that title wrapped at the moment – Nick Tandy – even though the nature of his season means he is unlikely to capture any championship on his own!

Tandy has competed in the full FIA World Endurance Championship season, splitting his time between the LMP2 class Oreca 05 Nissan from KCMG and a third Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1, which he drove at Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Though Nico Hulkenberg got many non-insider accolades for his drive at Le Mans, it was truly Tandy’s overnight stint, coupled with regular fellow factory Porsche pilot Earl Bamber, that won the race for the No. 19 Porsche.

That win for Tandy has kicked off a ridiculous run of form, culminating with his shock – but thoroughly well-deserved – overall win Saturday night at Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, co-driving the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet (Richard Lietz, the designated third driver, did not drive).

Tandy won three consecutive GT Le Mans class races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Virginia International Raceway.

A week after VIR, Tandy was back at KCMG for the first time since Silverstone in April and co-drove to victory in the LMP2 class at the Nürburgring.

After a relatively “rough” month of September where Tandy and Pilet needed a late splash of fuel to make the finish and lost a shot at a fourth straight GTLM class win, they rebounded this weekend at Petit Le Mans.

“The fact that we were a lot of time the fastest cars on track, so by racing against each other, naturally we had to race against the prototypes. So when they were in our way we had to race against us,” Tandy explained post-race at Petit Le Mans of his drive against, and past, the prototypes.

“When the race was coming to a close, I was aware that the 31 car was in the lead, but I knew if we had another rain shower I knew we would checker the race, so that was why I was pushing so hard to get ahead of the GTLM cars, and once I had done that and we had a really good pace and were comfortable we were catching the 31.

“It was a case of just pulling ahead of the rest, but we ended up winning overall, so it was fantastic. [opening] “The opening stint opened our eyes to the fact that we could actually be fighting for the overall victory, the fact we came from the back of the field to I think we were running second on pure pace.

“To be honest, the first 2 hours were the best conditions we had. We had consistent rain, but very little running water. Clearly towards the end, it dried out a little more and our pace compared to the other classes and the BMW and Corvettes came back. It was a race of two halves really.”