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Briscoe thankful for Ford opportunity; still open to another Indy 500 run

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SEBRING, Fla. – Although he won’t be back in the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time next season, Ryan Briscoe still has the option of running next year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 if he chooses.

Briscoe, confirmed Saturday morning as one of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT drivers full-time in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, would be available for the month of May, as there are no IMSA or 24 Hours of Le Mans clashes.

“I’d like to be able to do that,” Briscoe told MotorSportsTalk in a phone interview. “I’m gonna try to keep the options open. It doesn’t conflict.

“If the opportunity is right, would love to be in the 100th.”

Briscoe was drafted in as a last-minute injury substitute for James Hinchcliffe at this year’s race at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, following Hinchcliffe’s serious accident in practice the Monday before the race. It turned into the balance of the season, save for Detroit and Toronto, when he had Le Mans commitments.

In theory, Briscoe would make sense in an extra Ganassi car – as he was for the team in 2013 – and while there are no restrictions on what car he could drive, he’d undoubtedly want to be in a car that has race winning potential.

“Yeah absolutely,” he said. “You would have to make sure it’s a smart decision.

“My main priority is taking this car (the Ford) to Le Mans, and making sure I’m well to do it. But the Indy 500 is the Indy 500. Next year is a big one.”

Briscoe was due to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, but didn’t get the chance as his Corvette C7.R he was scheduled to drive with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia sustained an accident in practice and was withdrawn from the race.

He did do the iconic race double in 2013, with Ganassi for the Indianapolis 500, then with Level 5 Motorsports’ HPD LMP2 chassis at Le Mans.

Briscoe, who was jokingly asked by Will Power’s brother and comedian Damien Power “what a Chip Ganassi is” during an interview earlier this year, now rejoins the Ganassi fold for the fourth separate time.

He raced the full 2015 and 2014 IndyCar seasons and as noted, the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

“There’s familiarity and familiality with the team, which is great,” Briscoe said.

“It’s an honor to be racing for Chip. He’s one of the best in the business. Being on this Ford GT program, is just massive.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994