Offseason’s biggest winner, now Ryan Briscoe embarks on Ganassi stint 2

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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.”

Penske drivers lament missed victory at Road America (VIDEO)

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Team Penske dominated the entire Kohler Grand Prix weekend at Road America, twice going 1-2-3-4 over the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and then doing the same in qualifying, with Helio Castroneves taking pole from Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud.

However, race day represented a missed opportunity. Though Castroneves led early, it was Newgarden who emerged as their best hope for victory following a spectacular outside pass on Castroneves entering turn 1 on lap 19. That put Newgarden in the lead, and he seemed to be in full control.

Still, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon had been stalking the Penske foursome all race long, and sat behind Newgarden in second for a lap 30 restart. With Newgarden on primary blacks and Dixon on alternate reds, Newgarden was somewhat of a sitting duck, and Dixon muscled his way into the lead with an equally spectacular outside pass in turn 1, with Newgarden briefly falling to third behind teammate Castroneves.

Josef Newgarden led several laps, but could not find his way around Dixon for the win. Photo: IndyCar

Although Newgarden regrouped, overtook Castroneves during the final pit stop sequence, and closed to within a second following a restart with seven laps remaining, he was never close enough to make a move for the win.

Even though the Team Penske drivers all finished in the top five, going 2-3-4-5 with Newgarden leading Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power, missing out on victory was a bitter pill to swallow.

“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car,” Newgarden revealed in the post-race press conference.

He added that an ill-timed lap 28 caution for a spinning Takuma Sato ultimately put paid his chances of victory. “The caution didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict that stuff. It hurts when it comes at the wrong time. That’s pretty much what happened today. With (Tim Cindric calling the strategy), I feel confident with all our decisions, everything those guys do on the pit box. Things just didn’t fall our way today.”

For Castroneves, a slight error before his final pit stop saw him pit earlier than the team wanted, due to an alarm that went off in the cockpit. However, as he explained to NBCSN’s Marty Snider, it was of little consequence to the outcome of the race.

“We mentioned in the debrief that if in turn 14, the blue lights come on, you are to come right away. So I came in. I am sure they had a little buffer, and they knew what exactly was going on. (Race engineer Jonathan Diuguid) said keep going but I couldn’t quite understand him. But at the end of the day it didn’t cost us anything in terms of a win or second place.”

Still, the strong results see Pagenaud and Castroneves sit second and third in the championship, while Newgarden and Power sit fifth and sixth, respectively.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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One of the crazier, most eventful Formula 1 races in recent memory took place at the Baku City Circuit today in Azerbajian.

That makes it a challenge to recap but it’s something NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, along with producer Jason Swales, attempt to do in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass.

You can see it below. Thursday’s pre-race edition is linked here. A full roundup of Sunday videos from Baku is linked here.

 

Bottas gives everything in Baku fightback from a lap down to P2

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Valtteri Bottas says he “gave it absolutely everything” after falling a lap down and running last early on in Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Baku before fighting back to finish second for Mercedes.

Bottas qualified second for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, but dropped back after contact with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2 on the opening lap, sustaining a puncture.

Bottas fell a lap down on the field immediately, but was waved past and able to get back onto the lead lap during the first safety car period.

From there, Bottas produced a stunning fightback, dodging the minefield of incidents through the race to eventually cross the line second after a drag race to the checkered flag with Williams’ Lance Stroll.

“Today was a crazy race, especially for me. I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1,” Bottas said.

“I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.

“My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner.

“We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”

Bottas ultimately finished as Mercedes’ lead driver following Lewis Hamilton’s second pit stop when his headrest came loose, resigning the Briton to fifth place at the checkered flag.

F1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix race videos on NBCSN (VIDEO)

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Videos from today’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit from NBCSN are linked below.

Daniel Ricciardo won a chaotic, crazy, bizarre race for his first victory of the season.

With a mix of post-race interviews and in-race highlights, there was a lot to digest. The post-race edition of Paddock Pass will also attempt to recap it all.

POST-RACE INTERVIEWS/FEATURES

Lewis Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel

Sergio Perez

Lance Stroll’s podium “shoey” with Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo’s “shoey” tradition

IN-RACE HIGHLIGHTS

Bottas, Raikkonen tag each other at start of race

Verstappen tries to force Perez into errors at Azerbaijan GP

Verstappen forced to retire in Azerbaijan GP

Fernando Alonso calls for a red flag due to debris

Vettel hits Hamilton in crazy restart

Repercussions possible for Vettel and Hamilton after contact

Ricciardo slings his way to third

Sebastian Vettel relinquishes lead due to penalty

Ricciardo drives to victory, Bottas steals second at the flag