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Better mindset, form for Briscoe, CGR heading into final month of 2014

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Heading to the final four races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole is starting to hit its stride.

The team hasn’t won yet but in the form of Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, has two drivers who are past winners at each of the next three stops on the schedule (Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee, Sonoma). Meanwhile Tony Kanaan (Milwaukee, Sonoma) and Charlie Kimball (Mid-Ohio) also have wins at the upcoming rounds in their careers and look to get on the scoreboard for 2014.

Briscoe, driver of the team’s No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has in particular found his form over the last two months.

Heading into Mid-Ohio, where Briscoe won in 2008 and finished second in 2009, he feels the race will be less of a lottery.

“I hope so. They’re all tracks I’ve won at before,” Briscoe told MotorSportsTalk last week, ahead of the IMSA weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s good timing with gaining speed and competitiveness. I’m super motivated. We can make it happen. Less of a lottery than the street courses, some of the results have been strategy gambles. These next ones should have more to do with pure performance.”

On that performance, Briscoe has been consistent – he’s finished between fourth and 12th in each of the last eight races. Even better results had been possible if not for strategic gambles gone awry.

“We’ve been getting stronger,” Briscoe said. “We’ve had some shining moments, glimpses and so forth. Now we’re showing a consistency of speed. That’s what we need to be doing.

“We’re understanding now were we needed to be at the beginning of the season,” he added. “On the 8 car crew, we’re really gelling, getting to know each other better. There’s a really good confidence level and feeling at the team – we’re knocking on the door of the first win.”

Briscoe finished a season-best fourth at Pocono and could well have podiumed at Iowa had he and Kanaan not been caught out on old tires in the final sprint to the finish there.

At Toronto last race weekend, Briscoe rebounded from sliding into the Turn 5 wall on the wet track on Saturday to a 12th place finish in race one Sunday.

Briscoe confirmed the conditions were too unsafe to race, and said INDYCAR made the right call to postpone the race a day.

“Yeah that corner has an out for me doesn’t it,” he joked, since that’s the same corner where he injured his wrist in 2013. “It was definitely a tough weekend.

“I felt so bad for the fans on Saturday. It’s hard because on a track like that, with the standing water, I don’t know if people really had a good idea how dangerous that would have been had we started. The visibility was zero. You’re popping down there at 160 mph – it was so dangerous. Unfortunately, it was the right thing to not start the race. Getting the two races was good, but I wish the second one could have been full distance.”

While he didn’t mind the race delay, he was caught off guard by the decision to move him, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power to the rear of the field once Sunday’s race restarted.

“I only found out Sunday morning,” Briscoe noted. “I didn’t agree with or fully understand and still don’t given it was a full restart. We should have started from our starting positions. That’s the way it should have been. Had it been a continuation of the race, the 12 car (Power) shouldn’t have started. Whatever, that’s the way it was. I didn’t get into it further.”

Briscoe has been a fan of the constant run of action this season, with the condensed 2014 schedule running from the last weekend in March through the end of August. Thirteen of the series’ 18 races take place from June through August.

“It’s been an exciting year – I love racing every weekend,” Briscoe said. “I’d race 12 months if it was up to me. But it’s been hard on the crews though.

“It’s gonna be a long offseason… I know IndyCar is looking at adding a few more races to extend the year. It’s hard for us at the moment to compete for TV time with football starting up, so that’s part of the strategy. Finishing early, I get it. It’s been a busy but exciting season.

“It has been really good consistency for the fans, to see the frequency of IndyCar racing. In the past we’ve had too many breaks. It used to be you were not sure when we’re racing, but as an IndyCar season it’s been tightened up.”

Lastly Briscoe talked about his first year as a father, with daughter Finley having been a welcome addition to the family for Ryan and wife Nicole.

“We’ve been lucky with a good baby to have,” Briscoe said. “Nicole’s an amazing mom. Especially on race weekends, it takes a lot of pressure off knowing she’s (Finley) in good hands.

“With me at the race track, and preparing for the race track, I don’t feel like it’s changed anything at all. Life away from the track is different – there’s more responsibilities. But now life revolves around Finley – and she’s a great kid.”

In a better place than he was 12 months ago, with a multiyear Ganassi contract, better form on track and a new baby that’s been a blessing to him, Ryan Briscoe seems primed to get back to the race-winning form he captured during the 2008 through 2012 seasons.

Pla powers to unofficial lap record at Petit Le Mans night practice

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Cooler conditions produced the fastest lap times yet this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale in night practice, and Olivier Pla kept the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda at the top of the charts.

A 1:13.541 is an unofficial lap record for IMSA (note times were quicker in the American Le Mans Series, but we’re talking post-mergification in 2014 when ALMS and GRAND-AM came under one roof) as Pla dropped the hammer Thursday night in the car he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew, in Shank’s 250th and last scheduled prototype start. It also gave Shank a Thursday three-practice sweep of the top of the timesheets.

“I’m very happy with the performance today. I love this track, Road Atlanta, and the car has been great from the beginning. We just kept improving the car during each session. All of the changes we made were very positive so thank you to the team for that. I think it’s looking good for the race,” Pla told IMSA Radio.

Other class leaders at night included 2015 IndyCar driver Stefano Coletti, in the third Starworks Motorsport entry in Prototype Challenge, Dirk Mueller in GT Le Mans in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Marco Seefried in GT Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Night practice, like the two day sessions that preceded it, was largely uneventful – a welcome departure from last year’s nightmarish day of crashes and rain on Thursday.

A final pre-qualifying practice occurs on Friday before qualifying later Friday afternoon.

Session three times are linked here.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Rosberg’s ascendance, Pagenaud’s title

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with his team-mate Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP as he celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry previews the forthcoming Formula 1 title battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, recaps the IndyCar title just won by Simon Pagenaud, and addresses some other topics from both worlds as well.

Per usual, it’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

On the Rosberg vs. Hamilton title title, Johansson notes that the narratives around the two keep popping up depending on who’s winning and losing on-track.

“Nico really dominated this one, no doubt,” Johansson wrote of Rosberg’s peerless weekend in Singapore. “He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong.

“But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

“Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.”

Johansson also acutely notes how Sebastian Vettel has taken advantage of 2017 Pirelli tire testing to perhaps gain a leg up on the competition next year.

He writes of Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s test runs on the newer 2017 rubber, among other things, “What’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

“The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.”

On Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar title, Johansson praised the 32-year-old Frenchman who’s come into his own this year:

“Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.”

Johansson still said Scott Dixon, the 2015 and four-time champion, put together a barnstorming 2016 campaign – but it was one undone by horrific luck.

“As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Rosberg leads Mercedes 1-2 in shorter Malaysian first practice

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Despite a near-20-minute red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s fire in pit lane, the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair needed less time to retain their usual positions on the top of the scoreboard for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg, who regained the championship lead with his third win in a row two weeks ago in Singapore, topped the timesheets at 1:35.227 on Pirelli’s soft tires, which was 0.494 of a second clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The profile of the Sepang International Circuit has changed this year owing to a resurfacing and the angles and lines to some of the corners are different compared to years past. And the race shifts back to October for the first time since 2000.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s race lap record is 1:34.223 set with Williams in 2004 and pole times in the V10 era were in the 1:33s. On harder tires – Pirelli has brought the three hardest compounds on offer with the soft, medium and hard tires this weekend – and times aren’t far off.

In the 90-minute session, Rosberg did have an off with 15 minutes to go; Hamilton had a monster lockup with about 53 minutes to go and Carlos Sainz Jr. went off course just following the session restart.

Magnussen’s pit fire though was the story of the session. The Dane pitted, then scrambled to exit his Renault when smoke and flames emerged from both the airbox in the engine cowling and then from the engine bay. His crew worked wonders to extinguish the flames.

Behind the Mercedes teammates at the top of the charts, Ferrari’s pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next followed by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in fifth. Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were sixth and seventh, ahead of the Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Perez is hoping a resolution on his F1 future will be revealed sooner rather than later.

Romain Grosjean’s struggles with Haas F1 Team continued as he radioed that “something must not be right” with the car after a late off in the session. He was an unlucky 13th.

Further down the order neither Felipe Massa of Williams or Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault were able to eclipse the two Saubers, and languished in 18th and 19th.

Free practice two runs from 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App, via streaming at f1stream.nbcsports.com for participating providers. Leigh Diffey is back in the booth with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, with Townsend Bell in the pits. Set your DVRs, or brew some coffee.

Times from FP1 are below:

Renault crew fights, extinguishes Magnussen fire at Malaysia (VIDEO)

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There must be something about the Enstone team and scary pit fires, because Kevin Magnussen had his near-Jos Verstappen at Hockenheim 1994 moment during this morning’s first free practice from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The young Dane pitted his Renault RS16 just eight minutes into the session because it all went wrong from there. Smoke and flames emanated from out of the roll hoop and in the engine bay, and Magnussen frantically jumped out of the car from there.

He was OK, but in the subsequent minutes that followed, the car lit up several more times as it burned off fuel. The Renault Sport F1 Team crew then took to fighting and fanning the flames with fire extinguishers, and managed to douse it and put it out, in a valiant effort.

The car was wheeled back into the garage and Magnussen, most importantly, was unharmed.

The fire caused a 19-minute delay to the session.

Verstappen’s raging inferno came during a pit stop in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when the team now known as Renault was known as Benetton.

Tweets from the team are below and the video is above. FP2 runs on NBCSN from 2 a.m. ET.