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.”

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500