I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but back in March I called it. Roger Penske – noticing Sam Hornish Jr is suddenly no longer available for IndyCar racing – realized that he needed to pick the best available driver for one of his two ICS entries, and in his nearly infinite wisdom he decided that driver is Ryan Briscoe.
Question for the studio audience: if you had an IndyCar team with the ability to hire any one available driver, is there anyone that would pick Ryan? No offense to the Briscoe Inferno, but most folks would probably go with Buddy Rice, Tomas Scheckter, or someone else who has finished more than 50% of their races in their ICS career. Nine out of 20 ain’t exactly inspiring confidence with the accounting department.
That said, there are rational reasons to defend The Captain on this choice.
First, there is no marquee name out there. Helio Castroneves is in the fold, Dan Wheldon isn’t available, and neither is Tony Kanaan, nor Scott Dixon. If your name isn’t on that list then either you have one win or less in the last two seasons of ICS racing or you are pursuing a career driving a cab. Briscoe may not be Rice or Scheckter, but he has just as many wins (that would be “zero”) in the same time frame.
Second, Briscoe is still relatively young. And while at 26 he’s no longer considered a phenom, with only 20 races under his belt he’s still got “upside” to go along with whatever talent he has. Upside sometimes translates into "upside-down", but that's for Penske to worry about.
Third, he’s done well on road courses. This is crucial because of course road and street tracks are the wave of the future in the ICS. (If you could only see me rolling my eyes as I write that sentence.) So far these three points make Ryan not so different than Wade Cunningham, but...
Lastly - and most importantly - Briscoe has done what Roger has asked of him. He’s raced for Penske in the ALMS this year, finishing tied for third in the P2 class. He also raced for Penske’s son at the Indy 500 this year, finishing 5th. And if you listen to the Captain himself he will say:
"He had the experience with a year at Ganassi, had been involved in a lot of road racing and was a Formula One test driver and we were really impressed with the job he did with Porsche," Penske said. "There were two key points and No. 1 was to run him at Indy. He did a great job and was right there if it hadn't rained. No. 2, we wanted to see what he did with the Porsche program and he did very well. We tested him (in an IndyCar Series car) at Milwaukee and Sebring and he fits our mold. He's young and he understands the sponsor and I think he has a long career with us."Now note what Big Chip Ganassi said about this guy not three years ago.
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"You know, the guy obviously has a lot of testing experience, a lot of racing experience, and most importantly what we think is experience with, you know, big horsepower open-wheel cars. That's what we're always looking for. He fits the bill. Not to mention the fact he's a nice guy and a student of the sport, if you will. Seems to me he has a real interest in the cars and how they work. I think that's a nice thing in today's world of motor racing. It's not just somebody that wants to get in and push the pedals.Déjà vu right there, and for some reason that last sentence made me think of the guy Ryan is replacing, although that’s another thought for another day. The lesson here to be learned is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, unless your name is Ryan Briscoe.
"As you know, Ryan is a young guy. He's got a great career ahead of him. Wherever that career takes him, I'm sure that our team will be happy to get him to the front in terms of what we're racing. If he wants to go somewhere else and race, we're going to help him get to the front there, as well."
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