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.

F1: USGP post-qualifying reactions on NBCSN

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Here are post-qualifying quotes from drivers following the session today at the United States Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton extended his record with 72 poles and then broke a tie with Michael Schumacher for his 117th front row start.

TOP 3 WORLD FEED INTERVIEWS – WITH NBCSN’S WILL BUXTON

1. 44-Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“The team have done a great job. Track was very difficult with the wind picking up. There was a head wind into Turn 1, then a tail wind out of 1, then Sector 1 tail wind, then a head wind into 9, so it shifts through the lap. You have to gauge how hard to push. That’s why I love this track, especially when you have a car this good.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely (to clinch the championship). Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari back up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best of my abilities.

“Sebastian’s right there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is quite unlikely as he’s a four-time World Champion – we’ll see it continue on to other races.”

2. 5-Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

“I was very happy at the end but was lacking a bit of rhythm first to second sector. Finally I got it right at the end when it mattered. I believe our race pace is very good. Quali, we’ve been just a bit behind. Congrats to Lewis.”

3. 77-Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

“Definitely disappointing. It was looking good, quite close with Lewis. Disappointing but there’s always tomorrow.”

OTHER INTERVIEWS (Alonso, Ocon, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Hartley with Buxton; rest with BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Jennie Gow, while Buxton was handling world feed top three) 

4. 3-Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull

“Happy with what I did in the last run! Today overall not really, until that last run. We were a bit off the pace. We found something. I’m just more happy with how we turned it around. I was 10th in Q1, but then we made it less than half a second. Let’s go for win number two. That sounds a lot sweeter and has a better ring to it!”

5. 7-Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Probably not (as to get the most out of it). This is what we got today. Some places were more difficult. It was hard to get it right. Some laps were good. It was difficult to put a lap together. I don’t know. I have no idea how tomorrow will go.”

6. 33-Max Verstappen, Red Bull (has 15-spot grid penalty; will start 18th)

“Everything seemed to work pretty OK. I made two big mistakes in the last run. I was surprised to be that close (to them). I should have been near Sebastian. Look at sector times; it all looked OK. If you make two mistakes, it’s not all there. It’s my worst qualifying of the year.

“In qualifying we lose a lot on the straights. We get close. I have to fight harder. I’ll try to show tomorrow what I didn’t do today.”

7. 31-Esteban Ocon, Force India

“I feel sick all the session. Massive headache. I took something during session. My stomach was upside down. I’m not going too close to you. Hopefully can recover and be ready to attack tomorrow.”

8. 55-Carlos Sainz Jr., Renault

“(I’m) very happy with that, and how everything’s gone so far. It was quite tough track conditions with the wind is picking up. You have to know how the car will react. I built it up over the whole session, more than a second. P8 with a penalty in front of us, I think we can be pretty pleased with that. Just want a clean race. Don’t want anything more than that. We’ll see what the strategies are. I’ve been focusing on short running so far. A clean race, if we do that, we can be in the points for the team.”

9. 14-Fernando Alonso, McLaren

“It felt great. We had difficult conditions. Very windy and quite hot. The grip was lower than we expected. The McLaren car performed extremely well. We went into Q3. In Q3 we were ninth, and we’ll be eighth with the Verstappen penalty. A great chance to score points. (with long straights, maybe not as bad?)

“We’ll see. We seem to compare with the other teams. There’s still a deficit on the straights. We’re a little bit exposed in first lap in the group. After that’s settled, we can open the gap in high speed section and defend better. We’ll try defend these first laps as best we can.”

10. 11-Sergio Perez, Force India

“It was good. We had good pace in the car today. But my qualifying was compromised big time when Kevin (Magnussen) blocked me. I had to use an extra set. So in Q3 I only had a single set. It was strange; it was quite understeery. Lost 4 tenths to Q2, and that meant P10. Definitely tomorrow I will be able to recover, move forward. It’ll be a tricky run. There are a lot of things that can happen. It’ll be important to get a good race in. Crossed fingers! (to survive Turn 1).”

14. 8-Romain Grosjean, Haas

“Yeah, it’s been a tough weekend. I didn’t run any ultrasofts before quals. Then I spun before. The one on Lance Stroll was close. I was lucky not to spin in the grass. That would have been the end of it. We made it to Q2, which was good I thought. We closed the gap from 0.7 to 0.3, but we haven’t been performing that well. It’s not the upgrade that’s been the issue; it’s been more tire-related. And that’s why we’ve had such a swing in performance. Malaysia nowhere, Japan we’re good, now here it’s mixed.

“(On Haas Hill:) That was amazing. The support we have here is insane! I waved at them in quali after I was done. I’m sure the fans will give us something special.”

15. 27-Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (has 20-spot grid penalty, will start 19th)

“(Not running is) not by choice but it is what it is. We have the plus-20 engine penalty. It doesn’t make sense to keep running. We want to keep the flexibility in strategy to start on whatever tire. We have been reasonably competitive and have a big challenge on our hands right from the back. I’m trying to be positive. Hopefully can overtake a lot of cars. Look forward to better racing.”

18. 39-Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso (has 25-spot grid penalty, will start 20th)

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back. Put a lot of focus on long runs. Getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today. Free practice three had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far. I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone! It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half. A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”