Only Graham Rahal will be able to match Ryan Briscoe’s perception of how the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course has evolved, from an exploratory test held last fall through today’s open test for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of Indianapolis, to be held May 10.
The driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ended Wednesday’s test session second fastest at 1:09.6558 (126.054mph), trailing only CGR teammate Scott Dixon.
Rahal and Briscoe tested back in the fall before the GP of Indy was formally announced; for Briscoe, today marked his first time on the IMS road course driving in his usual entry as opposed to the National Guard Panther Racing car he drove last year (a sponsor which now, coincidentally, sponsors Rahal).
“When I was here back in October and did some laps in the IndyCar, we were trying the configurations. We actually ran turn one going backwards. That was weird,” Briscoe admitted.
“And the banking felt huge. When we go this way for the 500, you don’t even notice the banking. It doesn’t feel like there’s any banking at all. You go backwards through it, it’s like you lean over, the steering gets heavy. It really stood out.”
Briscoe noted the two major passing zones.
“One and seven are the big pass zones,” Briscoe added, describing the track. “I think (there’s) just huge improvements over what was the F1 track with extending the straight down the middle, slowing down turn seven, then opening up the next set of S’s in eight, nine and ten where it used to be very slow and now it’s really fast and challenging.”
Briscoe didn’t have the chance to compete in an F1 race, but he was a Toyota-affiliated reserve and test driver during the 2004 season before coming over to North America to race in IndyCar.
He said the weirdness of seeing the Pagoda on driver’s right, as opposed to driver’s left, was stranger outside the cockpit than in it.
“I think still it looks the strangest from outside the car,” he said. “When we’re out there driving, it’s just another racetrack really. But you stop and you have a look and you see the cars coming up the straight the wrong way, it takes some getting used to, for sure.”
Upon his return to CGR for the first time since the 2005 season, Briscoe has shown flashes of speed but hasn’t had a huge weekend as yet. The GP of Indy provides him his best chance yet at his first Firestone Fast Six qualifying and race podium appearance of the season.