Briscoe: “I’ve been made as comfortable as I could be in this situation”

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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.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.