Ganassi Adds Veteran Briscoe To IndyCar Team

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 14 2013

Ryan Briscoe, a former Indy 500 pole-winner, will take Dario Franchitti's seat at Chip Ganassi Racing. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Chip Ganassi Racing put the finishing touches on its 2014 IndyCar Series lineup Friday with the addition of Ryan Briscoe to a fulltime ride and a key number switch involving reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan.

Briscoe, who began his domestic open-wheel career with team-owner Ganassi in 2005, has signed a three-year contract to drive the No. 8 NTT Data Dallara/Chevrolet as teammate to three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, Kanaan and Charlie Kimball.

Additionally, Kanaan will drive the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara vacated by the recent retirement of four-time series champion Dario Franchitti. The team previously had announced an agreement with Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 16-time race-winner, to drive the No. 8 NTT Data entry in 2014.

In eight seasons of IndyCar Series competition, Briscoe has logged 111 starts, seven wins, 12 poles, 27 podiums and over 1,400 laps-led with a best finish of third in the 2009 championship for Team Penske. Most recently, Briscoe drove the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda during the 2013 Indy 500.

“I feel like one of the luckiest guys out there at the moment,” Briscoe said during a news conference at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Briscoe was joined by Ganassi and Mike Hull, the organization’s managing director.

“This is sort of full-circle,” said Briscoe, a 32-year-old native of Sydney, Australia. “The first IndyCar I ever drove was one of Chip’s back at the end of the 2004 season. It’s been a rollercoaster ride since then. Had a lot of great experiences all over the place. I’ve driven a lot of great race cars. But nothing beats being back here. Can’t wait to get integrated into the team again, being teammates with Tony, Scott and Charlie. I think it’s going to be an unbelievable year.

“We had a great time at Indy this year. It was an unbelievable experience. We talked back then about this plan of moving forward, having a future, and here we are. It’s just a great feeling. Just want to thank Chip and Mike for the support. Finally we’ve got this down, it’s out there, it’s going to be time to get to work.”

A leading global IT services provider, NTT Data began its relationship with the Ganassi organization at the Indianapolis 500 on the No. 8 car. NTT Data maintained an associate partnership with Ganassi on the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Dallara/Honda driven by Californian Kimball in 2013. In addition, the company fielded a second Daytona Prototype in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series’ Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Kanaan driving the No. 02 car.

Ganassi noted that Briscoe originally was scheduled to drive the NTT-sponsored DP at IMS last August in conjunction with NASCAR’s annual summertime appearance.

“Ryan was hurt prior to that, hurt his wrist and wasn’t able to drive. Tony Kanaan stepped-in for him,” Ganassi said. “It started a snowball of events that ultimately worked around to today’s announcement where Ryan is going to be in the No. 8 NTT IndyCar and Tony moves over to his best friend’s car, the No. 10 that was vacated unfortunately by Dario.

“We were all on the phone with Dario. He’s going to stay involved with the team. He wants to know when we’re testing, wants to be there to help out. So we’re ready to go. He couldn’t be more proud of the talent on this team also. He looks forward to being a part of it continuing forward.”

Ganassi’s No. 10 Target car has become one of the most sought-after open-wheel seats in recent years. The late Dan Wheldon posted six wins, three poles and 17 podiums in the No. 10 from 2006-2008, when he took over the car as defending IndyCar Series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner. Franchitti added to the car’s legacy when he scored a team-record three-straight IndyCar Series championships from 2009-2011, in addition to two Indy 500 wins (2010 and 2012), 13 overall wins, 16 poles and 36 podiums in five seasons in the cockpit.

“So, it’s kind of an interesting thing to have his best friend get in his seat, and Tony’s seat that he vacated filled by a guy our team has a lot of history with,” Ganassi said. “Let me say this. We had a lot of drivers, a lot of young talent, a lot of veteran drivers call us that were interested in the drive. We just felt with the history of NTT, it made a better fit with Ryan. Ryan was the best fit possible. His experience was a little bit more than most out there. That goes a long way with the schedule we’re looking at next year.

“We’re pretty pumped-up. This doesn’t happen without the coming together of a lot of people and a lot of give-and-take on a lot of people’s parts to make this happen.”

Kanaan joined Ganassi’s organization in the offseason following a three-year run with KV Racing Technology, the team co-owned by former TCGR driver and 1996 Championship Auto Racing Teams champion Jimmy Vasser.

In 15 seasons of IndyCar Series racing, Kanaan has compiled 276 starts, 16 wins, 15 poles and over 3,336 laps-led. Kanaan is the active leader in consecutive starts with 215 dating to the Portland, Ore., CART event in 2001. Kanaan won the 2004 IndyCar Series championship with Andretti Green Racing during a season in which he completed all 3,305 laps-raced.

“I’m extremely excited, but this is a very bittersweet day for me as many of you know,” said Kanaan, a native of Salvador, Brazil, who will turn 39 on Dec. 31. “On one hand I’m driving for the Target Team and couldn’t be more thrilled about the possibilities for next season. On the other hand I’m taking over the seat my good friend Dario had to leave. I was looking forward to reuniting with him more than anything as a teammate. The teamwork that has been shown here is a true reflection of Chip’s style as an owner. I can’t wait to get started.

“This year has been an unbelievable year for me. A lot of people know I almost had a history in the No. 10 car before Dario got there. Dario proved that seat, coming from Dan, Dario and myself.”

A three-time Indy 500 champion, Franchitti announced his retirement on Nov. 15. The Scotsman suffered two spinal fractures, a broken right ankle and a concussion in pin-wheeling crash into a catch-fence during the second Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston street race at Reliant Park on Oct. 6. Franchitti subsequently underwent neurological tests in Miami and was warned of the consequences of another hit to the head and opted to retire. Franchitti, 40, compiled 31 victories during a domestic open-wheel career that began in the Champ Car World Series in 1997 with Hogan Racing.

“I remember one of the toughest times this year when Dario was in my house in Florida doing all the tests to see if he was going to be able to drive it,” Kanaan said. “I didn’t know how to talk to my best friend, when he broke the news to me. He looked at me in the face and said, ‘You know, it would be really cool if you could drive the Target car and replace me. I think it’s going to make it easier on my retirement.‘

“Obviously, it’s Chip’s call, Target’s call. I thank also our partners…it’s unbelievable the support we get, and everybody believes as a team what we can accomplish. I’m happy. I’m extremely excited. It’s a hard shoe to fill. A lot of good history in that car. Hopefully we’ll be able to make more history. I’ll be very popular when I go home tonight and tell my wife I get the 10 percent (employee discount).”

Target Chip Ganassi Racing is the 10-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion team with over 90 victories, 80 pole positions and four wins in the Indianapolis 500. Led by Dixon, Target and Chip Ganassi Racing will celebrate their 25th year of partnership in 2014.

A 33-year-old native of Auckland, New Zealand, Dixon clinched his third series championship in the season-ender at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 19. The longest-tenured driver at TCGR and driver of the No. 9 Dallara, Dixon’s fifth-place finish in the MAVTV 500 gave him a 27-point advantage over Helio Castroneves of corporate rival Team Penske in the final driver standings.

Ganassi’s IndyCar Series team will switch to Chevrolet’s twin-turbocharged V6 engine program in 2014 after a long association with Honda Performance Development.

Hull, who oversees the open-wheel program in Ganassi’s diverse racing empire, said he is looking forward to integrating Kanaan and Briscoe into the team’s culture. “Teammates make their teammates better. That’s what they do,” Hull said. “They care more about the team than they do themselves. That’s what we’ve always done at Chip Ganassi Racing. That runs through the entire network of people that we have and how we support the product.

“In turn, that’s how we represent our brand and the brand for NTT Data, Target, Novo, all the other sponsors we have involved with us. One of the greatest things about what happened today is first of all the sponsor group is here. They wanted to be here. They want to be part of what we do. I think that’s representative. I think that’s a short answer to who we are, but it’s all about making your teammate better. That’s the integration process that we have.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 14 2013
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