In choosing Briscoe, Ganassi shows that experience matters

2 Comments

In the end, Chip Ganassi played it safe. Time will tell if that pays off for him.

But in signing Ryan Briscoe to take over the fourth seat at his team, Ganassi is betting on veteran leadership to win the day. And when you’re chasing a championship on an annual basis, that quality is very important to have.

It’s not the most buzz-worthy approach. Briscoe has been involved with the series for almost a decade now but one can argue he’s not a household name. Even during his time with Team Penske, one of the other powerhouse teams in North American open-wheel racing, the attention often was on Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Would a veteran that’s never had a top-tier ride such as Justin Wilson or a young blue-chipper such as Sage Karam have provided a bigger jolt among the fans? Perhaps.

But you don’t win championships by bowing to the whims of the masses. You do it by looking out for your team. And that’s what Ganassi did when he zeroed in and brought on Briscoe.

He was thinking about how Briscoe already knows the Ganassi way of doing things, as the Australian drove for him in 2005 and again at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

He was thinking about how Briscoe is a reliable competitor on the track that rarely makes dumb mistakes and will be good for a consistent string of Top-5s and Top-10s – with the occasional win or two thrown in for good measure.

And he was thinking about how Briscoe fought for championships before with Penske, and how that valuable experience can help his entire outfit.

The Ganassi camp always wants to be in the championship hunt. And when a goal is set that high, one can assume they’re not inclined to getting a rookie or a newcomer acclimated unless he or she is something special (Tony Kanaan, now driving Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 car, is one of those exceptions).

Rebuilding is not an option. The only thing to do is reload.

And while Briscoe has only collected seven wins across both his first run with Ganassi and his five-year tenure with Penske, he gave Ganassi the best chance to keep his operation humming along after the forced retirement of Franchitti following his October crash at Houston.

That made his decision critical in the short term and in that regard, he made the right choice with Briscoe. As for the long haul, Briscoe is still relatively young at 32 years of age and if he can hold his own with teammates Kanaan, series champion Scott Dixon, and rapidly improving Charlie Kimball, he could keep the No. 8 ride for a decent period of time.

Perhaps at that point, Ganassi will take on one of those rising stars that the fans want to see – but by then, that driver will have become seasoned and more mature.

That’s what he looks for. And that’s what he’ll get with Briscoe.

Matty Brabham working towards IndyCar comeback

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Australian American young gun Matty Brabham is hoping to work towards a comeback in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Brabham, 23, was along with RC Enerson the two top young guns who raced a handful of 2016 races but didn’t get a proper encore in 2017. Brabham has instead specialized in racing in Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, where he leads that championship and hopes to win it this weekend in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

While his PIRTEK Team Murray deal was announced two years ago in December in a technical partnership with KV Racing Technology for 2016, Brabham didn’t get the chance to build on that beyond the two races he did at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Indianapolis 500 itself. An impressive qualifying run at the road course saw him nearly make Q2, while he fought an ill-handling race car in the ‘500 all month to finish his debut.

Being out of the cockpit hasn’t meant a lack of work, with Brabham having kept his face present at a number of IndyCar races working to put together meetings, occasionally driving two-seaters and then staying active in the trucks.

“All the racing stuff comes naturally as I’ve grown up in it around my dad (Geoff), and from my grandfather (the late Sir Jack) as well, that’s been the easy part,” Brabham told NBC Sports. “It’s the off-track stuff, finding sponsorship and the money to continue racing, that’s been the hardest battle to get into IndyCar or any motorsport.

“It’s been challenging but I’ve learned a lot on the business end. What a lot of people forget is that I went straight from high school straight into racing, so I don’t have a ton of business experience to learn about how to find sponsorship. It’s been a lot of learning as you go.

“Obviously you have to work on business deals and try to find companies. I’m involved with a lot of traveling, and I’ve been at a lot of the shows, PRI and SEMA and the main ones. The biggest thing is networking and talking to people, and learning from them, and go about doing it.”

As the Verizon IndyCar Series is riding a tidal wave of young talent gathering either part-time or full-time rides, Brabham is one of a handful that sticks out as being absent.

The 2018 field includes recent Indy Lights graduates Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Spencer Pigot and Gabby Chaves – each of the last four champions – along with other drivers Max Chilton, Zach Veach, Matheus Leist and Jack Harvey who’ve all graduated within the last three years. That number could grow if either or both of Zachary Claman DeMelo and/or Santiago Urrutia find seats.

Brabham, Enerson and Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion, are probably the three drivers most deserving of a full-time IndyCar shot for 2018 with recent MRTI experience that hasn’t got it yet. None has driven more than 15 races in the series, Karam only having had a partial 2015 campaign with three other one-offs at the Indianapolis 500.

Seeing the success his counterparts from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires have had hasn’t angered or frustrated Brabham, as it’s shown how capable the ladder is of preparing drivers for IndyCar. A switch to the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit next year is also key to note.

“When there’s a big change, you’re seeing guys with the guys I’m racing with in MRTI,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to show what they could do next year. I’d love to be a part of it. Envious of the guys testing so far. Everyone’s said it’s like a real race car that’s a bit more challenging to drive.

“But it’s really cool to have that going along, and be a part of. For the young guys, it’s quite difficult for them to jump in for one race, and compete against veterans for some time. It takes them a couple years to show results and win races. There’s plenty of young guys who could do so with the right environment, step into the series.

“It’s great seeing Jack, Spencer, and all these guys I competed with on MRTI do well – and I won championships – so it’s a little frustrating, but it’s great to see them get in and do well because I feel I could do just as well.”

Brabham was close to stepping into the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda last year when Sebastien Bourdais was injured, but didn’t quite have the funding to make it happen. Such an opportunity would have seen him filling in for his 2016 teammate, who he had nothing but high praise for.

“I think there were a couple of us in conversation – but it’s a sad thing when it happens and you never want to see it; plus, Bourdais was my first teammate,” he said. “He was great and very helpful. You hate to see it. Lots of conversations went on in the background, certain people put my name forward and my name was in the mix.”

Alas, his talent is still there, and it’s worth remembering past Team USA Scholarship recipient Brabham beat Pigot to the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title when the two were teammates at Cape Motorsports and then he followed up with a crushing performance en route to the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title.

It’s a common story for young drivers that talent isn’t the lone qualifier for an opportunity, but Brabham is hopeful he hasn’t faded from the radar.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations and in constant talks with the team owners and with sponsors as well. There’s nothing set in stone but I am working towards things,” he said.

“I’m kind of right on the edge of getting in there, will just take that last little bit of funding – which is the same for everyone else. I just need the lucky break to get in there for a couple races, show what I can do. I’m hungry and will work extremely hard. I know I can do it – it’s just a matter of getting that chance.”