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Corvette C7.R he was scheduled to drive with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia sustained an accident in practice and was withdrawn from the race.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.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”