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.

Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Pagenaud ‘quite satisfied,’ if still agitated, with P2 on Pocono grid

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The close-but-no-cigar, always slightly overshadowed nature of defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s 2017 season came to the fore again in Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Pagenaud was on the verge of securing his second pole this season, and first on an oval since Iowa Speedway in July 2016, after knocking Charlie Kimball off the top spot.

But the driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet got eclipsed by Takuma Sato, the final qualifier, right at the end to lose the pole and perhaps more critically, an additional point that went with it.

“(There’s) the word going through my mind and I’m not going to say it,” Pagenaud laughed in the post-qualifying press conference.

“Disappointing, of course. You can taste the win, and that’s what we’re all about. We’re racers. We want to win. I’m here to win, to be first, not to be second.

“In the meantime it’s a really good starting position. At the time it’s like gambling. You’re in the game and you feel like you could win, so it’s very exciting. That’s the roller coaster of racing in your life as a racer. It’s up and down, up and down your whole career. These moments are why I race. It’s happiness, satisfaction of doing the job.”

Pagenaud’s job satisfaction this year has come with his unrivaled consistency, if not outright pace, in defense of his 2016 title.

He leads the field with 10 top-five finishes in 13 races – no one else has more than seven – and he is the only driver to have completed all 1,738 laps of competition so far this year.

That underscores his consistency but it also reflects how much better his 2016 title-winning season was. He won five races last year to one so far this year (Phoenix), had eight poles (seven outright, one where he moved up a spot) last year to one this year, and has led only 133 laps this year – 116 of them at Phoenix.

That leads nicely into the point that Pocono is a key race for Pagenaud if he is to defend his title. He enters tomorrow’s race fourth in points but only 17 behind championship leader Josef Newgarden, his new teammate at Team Penske who’ll look to go one better in terms of winning a title for Roger Penske in his first season rather than in his second, as Pagenaud did last year.

Pagenaud’s title aspirations nearly came unglued at this race last year following his only DNF of the year. He crashed in Turn 1 and finished 18th while Will Power won and cut the gap from 58 points leaving Mid-Ohio to 20 leaving Pocono.

Now Pagenaud is even fewer points back but with more drivers to climb over, as IndyCar heads towards a grandstand finish to this year’s title between himself, Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon – and potentially Sato, Power and Graham Rahal if they can deliver a big points haul in Pocono.

“The championship is a lot more exciting for you guys this year,” he said. “I think it’s the beauty of IndyCar. We go on superspeedway, short oval next week, then completely different in two weeks, then Sonoma, which is a beautiful venue to finish the season.

“You know, that’s the beauty of this racing series, which I really love, because you have to show skills in every condition, every different aspect of track. So I’m very excited about it.

“If you can show strength in the last four, you deserve the championship, for sure.”

Pagenaud expects speeds to be slower in tonight’s final practice, a better preparation for Sunday’s race, as he estimated the rash of accidents today was owing to more drivers and teams chasing the temperatures for pole.

“This evening’s session is good so you can check your car in traffic, see how it behaves in the wake. But I think, you know, you’re still going to have to think about the race and the conditions being different, what to do on the race car to compensate for it,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we’re not going to be as fast as this because this is trim-out conditions, trying to go as fast as possible over two laps. Those are not the setups. The tires don’t last in those conditions.

“For the race, completely different story. You know, it’s a 500-mile race. There’s a lot of riding around, trying to balance your car for the end of the race. Trying to find the right level of downforce during the race is key as well. So you make a lot of adjustments, pit stops, get ready for the shootout, the last 60 laps really.

“For us, that’s going to be the plan. First goals were to be in the top five in qualifying. We were there. That’s checked. Now we need to run around in the front all day and be there to strike at the end.

“There’s also the fact that we’re playing for a championship here, so we have to be smart at the end.”

Pagenaud’s canny ability has kept him in the title fight as he looks to keep the No. 1 on his car for another season, which makes the frustration of losing a point today only slightly bittersweet as he looks at the bigger picture.

“Ben (Bretzman), my engineer, just nailed the gearing, the balance on the car. That was the best we could do,” he said.

“I’m quite satisfied. Front row start is really good, our best start here in Pocono. A 500-mile race, so a lot can happen.

“Today was pretty much ego day trying to get that pole position. For us it would have been nice to get another point. But overall I think we did our best and we’ll go to bed pretty satisfied with today.”

Hunter-Reay taken to local hospital after Pocono qualifying crash

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LONG POND, Pa. – Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has been taken to a local hospital following a heavy crash in qualifying.

Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda broke loose exiting Turn 3, and though he tried to correct it, the back end swapped around and the car made hard contact with the wall on the left side. It then traveled back across the track and impacted the inside wall, again with the left side of car.

Although Hunter-Reay was seen moving in the cockpit, he immediately began complaining of pain in his hip and needed help from the Holmatro Safety Team to get out of the car. They helped him get into the ambulance, as Hunter-Reay was walking with a significant limp.

More to follow.

 

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