In choosing Briscoe, Ganassi shows that experience matters

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In the end, Chip Ganassi played it safe. Time will tell if that pays off for him.

But in signing Ryan Briscoe to take over the fourth seat at his team, Ganassi is betting on veteran leadership to win the day. And when you’re chasing a championship on an annual basis, that quality is very important to have.

It’s not the most buzz-worthy approach. Briscoe has been involved with the series for almost a decade now but one can argue he’s not a household name. Even during his time with Team Penske, one of the other powerhouse teams in North American open-wheel racing, the attention often was on Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Would a veteran that’s never had a top-tier ride such as Justin Wilson or a young blue-chipper such as Sage Karam have provided a bigger jolt among the fans? Perhaps.

But you don’t win championships by bowing to the whims of the masses. You do it by looking out for your team. And that’s what Ganassi did when he zeroed in and brought on Briscoe.

He was thinking about how Briscoe already knows the Ganassi way of doing things, as the Australian drove for him in 2005 and again at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

He was thinking about how Briscoe is a reliable competitor on the track that rarely makes dumb mistakes and will be good for a consistent string of Top-5s and Top-10s – with the occasional win or two thrown in for good measure.

And he was thinking about how Briscoe fought for championships before with Penske, and how that valuable experience can help his entire outfit.

The Ganassi camp always wants to be in the championship hunt. And when a goal is set that high, one can assume they’re not inclined to getting a rookie or a newcomer acclimated unless he or she is something special (Tony Kanaan, now driving Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 car, is one of those exceptions).

Rebuilding is not an option. The only thing to do is reload.

And while Briscoe has only collected seven wins across both his first run with Ganassi and his five-year tenure with Penske, he gave Ganassi the best chance to keep his operation humming along after the forced retirement of Franchitti following his October crash at Houston.

That made his decision critical in the short term and in that regard, he made the right choice with Briscoe. As for the long haul, Briscoe is still relatively young at 32 years of age and if he can hold his own with teammates Kanaan, series champion Scott Dixon, and rapidly improving Charlie Kimball, he could keep the No. 8 ride for a decent period of time.

Perhaps at that point, Ganassi will take on one of those rising stars that the fans want to see – but by then, that driver will have become seasoned and more mature.

That’s what he looks for. And that’s what he’ll get with Briscoe.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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