Ryan Briscoe fastest in IndyCar Practice 3 at St. Pete

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Chip Ganassi Racing returnee Ryan Briscoe made a late charge to top the time sheets in this morning’s third and final practice before qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Briscoe threw down a lap of 1:02.4236 in the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet, enough to beat out former Team Penske teammate and fellow Chevy man Helio Castroneves (1:02.4730) for P1 in the session.

“It’s tough conditions out there with the wind,” Briscoe said. “The car feels not great, but everyone is struggling with the balance. We’ve made quite a few setup changes and nothing really made the improvement.”

Honda-powered Takuma Sato continued his steady weekend so far in St. Pete, logging the third fastest time this morning at 1:02.5243 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. entry. Sato was P3 in yesterday’s morning session and then topped the afternoon session later on.

After him came another pair of Chevy drivers – KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (1:02.5445) in fourth, and another Penske pilot, Will Power (1:02.5996), in fifth.

Simon Pagenaud, defending St. Pete champion James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, reigning series champion Scott Dixon, and rookie Jack Hawksworth rounded out the Top 10.

Qualifying is set to begin this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. In case you’ve forgotten or are new to the sport, IndyCar utilizes a form of the knockout-style format that begins with two groups of drivers (you can see today’s groups in Tony DiZinno’s notebook from last night).

Each group receives 10 minutes of track time to set their best lap, and the top six from each group will advance to the second round. The rest will make up the grid from 13th on back (Group 1 drivers make up the odd-numbered positions, Group 2 drivers make up the even-numbered positions).

In the second round, the 12 remaining drivers will get another 10 minutes of track time. At the end of that, the six fastest move on the final round – the “Firestone Fast Six.” Those unable to advance set positions 7-12 on the grid.

In the FF6, competitors will get 10 minutes of track time with a guarantee of five minutes’ worth of green-flag time. They also receive an additional set of tires to use in this segment. The fastest driver wins the pole, with the remainder setting positions 2-6.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”