Ryan Briscoe making most of filling in for James Hinchcliffe

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It’s one of the hardest positions to be put in, replacing a close friend. Even if it’s the right thing to do, it doesn’t always feel right.

At the same time that James Hinchcliffe was seriously injured while practicing for the Indianapolis 500 in mid-May, Ryan Briscoe didn’t have a ride for either the 500 or for the season.

When it became apparent Hinchcliffe was going to be lost for the season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports approached Briscoe and asked if he’d fill in for his friend for at least the Indy 500.

After Briscoe agreed, and earned a 12th-place finish, it made sense for SPM to keep him in Hinchcliffe’s car for the remainder of the season. And the 33-year-old Australian native has prospered. After Indy, he earned an excellent eighth-place showing at Texas.

He may have had a top-five finish this past Saturday at Fontana had it not been for a last-lap wreck with another of his close friends on the circuit, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Briscoe finished 16th in that race.

USA Today had a lengthy interview with Briscoe on Thursday. Here are some key excerpts. If you want to read the whole interview, click here.

Q: Replacing Hinchcliffe: “It’s been really good. Obviously, the circumstances aren’t great. But it’s been good to keep up with Hinch and see him, I saw him last week at the race shop and it’s going really well. That’s really comforting to know. I think it makes the situation much easier knowing that it’s just temporary injuries he’s got and he’s going to be coming back.

“But it’s been a lot of fun for me to get to know a new team, and a great team it is. I’m having a lot of fun and I feel like we’re really starting to jell and learn some things together, learn what I like from the car and sort of really starting to adapt to each other and make improvements, overall, to the team. So far, really positive.”

Q: The biggest challenges: “I think the most important thing is to really keep an open mind on everything and not get too caught up on numbers and setups that I’ve run in the past. Because there’s so much that goes into setting up the car. It’s not just, like, a rear spring that you like. Everything works together. And I think the most important thing for me has been to jump in and really sort of come to grips with what the team has developed the last few years with the likes of (Simon) Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe and James Jakes this year. And from there, take it from there and start to develop it. Certainly not come in and try to turn things upside down. Because the team’s been doing a great job and I just want to come in and learn and try to bring something to the table as well.”

Q: Is this a good opportunity for you? For sure. I was sort of sitting on the couch for most of the year, which has been a bit of a bummer. I have a great program going with Corvette with the endurance races, but at the same time, that is only four races. It’s not very busy and they don’t go testing a whole lot.

“So it was pretty tough watching the IndyCar season kick off  and not being a part of it, especially with the new aero kits (which) I’ve been very excited about over the past couple of years. Not being able to participate was really hard. Now that I’m back in the game, it feels awesome. I’m just trying to take it day by day and make the most of this opportunity.”

Q: Despite Saturday’s crash, your team looked very competitive: “It can compete, yeah. And we’ve seen them compete in the past. But it is sort of the underdog, one of the underdogs, of the IndyCar Series. And I think a lot of the time as a team they punch above their weight. And it’s great to be associated with them because they’ve got a winning attitude. Even though they’re not one of the big teams, may not have all the same resources and money to spend, every weekend the No. 1 goal is to go out and win races. And they’re always thinking on their toes in the strategy as well.

“They got a win this year with Hinchcliffe (Phoenix), a (first and third) finish, and that was just really the team making something out of nothing on the strategy and it worked. And I’m looking forward to those sorts of opportunities. But obviously, showing our pace on the weekend, we’re perfectly capable of competing on performance, too. We’ve just got to keep that up.”

Q: Describe Saturday’s crash: “It’s a weird feeling. Unfortunately I’ve done it a couple of times now where I’ve gotten airborne. And it’s scary, and it’s kind of peaceful at the same time. All of a sudden, it’s kind of like you’re on the runway in an airplane and it just takes off and you have that zero-gravity kind of feeling. You know, everything happens so slowly.

“When I got into the incident with Hunter-Reay, the car started spinning backwards, and the first thought that came into my mind was, ‘please stay on the ground.’ Because I spent the whole month of May at home, watching cars fly. And it’s a scary thing. So I was thinking, please don’t get airborne. Next thing, you just start to feel the rear of the car lift up off the ground. And then you’re just a passenger at that point.

“You’re just hoping that your head’s going to be OK. Being in an open-cockpit car, that’s the No. 1 fear when you’re upside-down that no object, debris, other car on the track, that your head is not going to make contact with everything.

“… It all happens sort of quickly, felt the car tumbling over and over. But pretty quickly, I knew that I was OK. I hadn’t hit my head hard. I didn’t even have a concussion or anything. And at that point, you’re just relieved. You’re just like, ‘Oh, thank God.’ Because you just never know in those deals, when you’re upside down at 200 miles per hour. It’s not fun. But it’s definitely a weird feeling.

“… I never felt too rattled by it. In that instant, you have that fear, like, ‘Oh, God, I hope I’m going to be OK.’ But as soon as it’s over, it’s like, ‘Well, I survived that crash, just like any other crash. You just … I don’t know, I mean, I didn’t really let it get to me too much.”

Q: Saturday’s pack racing at Fontana: “I wouldn’t want to do it every weekend, but I thought that it was an exciting race and, if anything, I think there could have been a bit more discipline amongst the drivers. … We just need to look after each other a little bit more out there. But I don’t see that sort of racing continuing a whole lot. I don’t think the series wants to take that risk on a regular basis.”

Q: How’s James Hinchcliffe doing? “I wasn’t in Toronto, but a lot of people said he was doing great, but he just looked really frail. And obviously he’s been through a lot of trauma. I saw him five days after Toronto, I was up in Indy and he came into the race shop, and he looked awesome. And even everyone on the team was like, wow. It’s just amazing to see how much stronger and how much better he looked just in five days since the race weekend. And that was coming up on two weeks ago now. He’s been texting over the race weekends and so on, and he’s in really good spirits. The doctors say he’ll make a 100 percent recovery. I’d say it’s better than anyone really expected after the crash.”

Q: Will replacing Hinch lead to a full-time ride for you next season? “I’m hoping that an opportunity could come together where the team has the funding and would want to take me on board to be a partner on the team. We’ll just see what happens, but in the meantime, we have five races to go and I’m just going to go out there and run hard and do the best I can for the team. It would be amazing if we could win a race to finish out the season.”

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.