INDIANAPOLIS – The last thing Ryan Briscoe wanted to hear upon watching Indianapolis 500 practice sessions from home was that any driver was injured from crashes in practice this week.
But as it’s happened, James Hinchcliffe’s accident on Monday proved more serious than it looked – both to regular observers and to Briscoe from his Connecticut home – and by Wednesday he was en route to Indianapolis to prep for a last-minute fill-in role for this year’s Indianapolis 500 aboard the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“Obviously I have followed every day of practice. When I saw Hinch’s crash, honestly I didn’t think he was badly injured at the time,” Briscoe told assembled reporters at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.
“Then I started getting some phone calls Monday afternoon and heard he’d be out. I started thinking about it. I didn’t hear from Sam until Tuesday. It went in and out all day Tuesday. I was at home in Connecticut just doing my everyday stuff. It’s hard.
“Obviously my first thoughts go to James. You never like to be a part of a situation like this. Best wishes are with him and his recovery.”
Briscoe got the call Tuesday from Schmidt, flew to Indianapolis Wednesday and completed a preliminary seat fitting, checked his headrest, and prepared for familiarization laps on Thursday.
Schmidt said Briscoe was essentially a ready-made option, licensed, prepped and all ready to go.
Briscoe did not harbor too many reservations about the appointment, noting he felt the media was perhaps too harsh in coverage to the accidents.
“Honestly this month from the outside, I’ve seen crashes, and the media has been putting quite a negative spin on it,” Briscoe said. “Not being here, you sort of feel the ‘worse side of it.’
“I talked to a few drivers about how they were feeling. That gave me a lot of comfort actually. Talked to (Scott) Dixon, (Dario) Franchitti, Helio (Castroneves) as well. Not too much has changed. You have to get mentally prepared.”
He’ll prepare for this race, but he wouldn’t be available for an IndyCar race again until potentially Auto Club Speedway at the end of June. Briscoe heads to France for Le Mans testing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans race with Corvette Racing next weekend, which takes him out of the cockpit for the Detroit, Texas and Toronto IndyCar races.
Team co-owner Ric Peterson told MotorSportsTalk to expect a replacement in the No. 5 on Monday, after this weekend is complete.
Although Briscoe hasn’t been in an IndyCar in nine months, since the August 2014 season finale, also at Auto Club, he has high expectations even from starting 32nd.
“Coming in for the Indy 500 and the day before Carb Day, it’s not the ideal situation,” Briscoe said. “You sort of prepare for this race a year out. You visualize how to go through practice. Prep how you’ll do. There’s the whole process. Something like this comes up and you throw it out the window.
“With a few laps today, and Carb Day with the other competitors, I will be able to find my groove again. We have high expectations. It won’t stop us from having our best shot.
“This team is very experienced from top to bottom. That makes me comfortable. This team has had a lot of success. Sam knows everything there is to know about this place.
“I’ve been made as comfortable as I could be in this situation.”