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Indy 500 Notes: Briscoe’s Holiday Weekend Plans Massively Overhauled

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
Ryan Briscoe will fill in for James Hinchcliffe in the most important event in auto racing.

Ryan Briscoe will fill in for James Hinchcliffe in the most important event in auto racing.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Briscoe was planning to spend Memorial Day Weekend with the family back home in Connecticut “doing my everyday stuff.”

Briscoe’s mow-the-lawn plans took a dramatic turn on Monday, when James Hinchcliffe bugindynotessuffered life-threatening injuries in a crash during practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. Briscoe, pole-sitter for the 2012 Indy 500, was introduced Thursday by team-owner Sam Schmidt as Hinchcliffe’s replacement for Sunday’s 200-lapper.

Hinchcliffe had qualified the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda 24th Sunday with a four-lap/10-mile average speed of 223.519 mph. As a substitute, Briscoe will start 32nd in the 33-car field.

“My first thoughts go to James,” said Briscoe, who has seven Verizon IndyCar Series victories in 129 career starts. “You never like to be a part of a situation like this. My best wishes for his recovery. But you have this opportunity. It’s great. Obviously coming into the Indy 500 on the day before Carb Day is not the ideal situation. You sort of prepare for this race often a year-out, and you visualize how you’re going through practice and the whole process. And then something like this comes up and you throw that out the window.”

INDYCAR officials granted Briscoe an hour of practice time around the 2.5-mile oval on Thursday, and the native of Australia completed 21 laps with a top speed of 220.130 mph. Those were his first laps with Honda’s new superspeedway aero kit.

“I need to get familiar with the car,” Briscoe, 33, said before the session. “Everything’s changed since I last drove last year. We’ll get familiar to coming into the pit box and leaving and knock that rust off before we go out tomorrow.”

Friday’s traditional Coors Light Carb Day, a one-hour practice for the field, is scheduled for 11 a.m. (EDT). It will be the final time the cars are on-track until Sunday. NBC Sports Network will air the session live.

“We explored quite a few options and felt confident in (choosing) Briscoe,” Schmidt said. “We were glad he was available and willing to drive for us with such short notice. Obviously, this was not a situation we were expecting to be in for the biggest race of the year but we’re making the best of it. Our thoughts and prayers are with James and his family right now.”

Hinchcliffe was transferred out of the Intensive Care Unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital Wednesday, an indication the 28-year-old Canadian is making substantial improvement following surgery on Monday for injuries to his pelvic area and upper left thigh. Hinchcliffe will not require further surgical procedures and is expected to make a full recovery.

“We’re very pleased with his progress and his condition continues to improve,” said Dr. Timothy Pohlman, Senior Staff Trauma Surgeon at IU Health Methodist Hospital, who performed the surgery. “Our expectation, in consultation with the INDYCAR medical staff, is that a normal recovery is to be expected.”

Hinchcliffe was transported by ground to the hospital following a single-car crash into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3. The accident was the fourth of the Month of May at IMS but first involving a Honda-powered driver. Chevrolet drivers Helio Castroneves of Team Penske_ a three-time Indy 500 champion _ and CFH Racing teammates Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter also crashed in separate airborne incidents, raising safety concerns about the manufacturer’s kit.

Hinchcliffe’s accident was triggered by a broken right front suspension piece and was not aero-related. “I think it’s been identified that the rocker (arm) broke,” Schmidt said. “We’ve spent a lot of the first 48 hours reviewing (data) to make sure we have covered all of our bases properly and the rest of the paddock have whatever knowledge they need. We certainly have rebuilt all three cars for the 500; I think every team does that.” Schmidt said all the team’s data will be forwarded to chassis builder Dallara Automobili.

In addition to the No. 5 car, SPM will start Englishman James Jakes 20th and American Conor Daly 23rd.

Briscoe is contracted to Corvette Racing for this year’s endurance races, a schedule that features next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. “Depending on Hinch’s situation, I’d definitely be happy to come in here and fill in as much as I can,” Briscoe said. “But I have a couple of conflicts right after this race with Detroit (May 30-31) and Toronto (June 14)_ I just can’t be there _ I’m committed to Corvette over in Europe. But sounds like Hinch will be back before we know it, so hopefully that’s the case.”

Hinchcliffe scored his fourth series win in his 70th start at the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park on March 12. Schmidt said Hinchcliffe, who is in his first season with SPM after a three-year stint at Andretti Autosport, need not rush back to protect his seat.

“I don’t know if I’m thinking much past Friday right now,” said Schmidt, asked about other possible substitute drivers. “I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. First and foremost James is our guy. We honestly haven’t approached anybody. We’ve got Ryan through Sunday for the biggest race of the year _ the biggest race in the world. That’s our total focus right now.”

Briscoe finished 11th in IndyCar Series points last year driving for NTT Chip Ganassi Racing, scoring one top-five and 10 top-10 results. He led five laps during the 18-race season.

Briscoe, who was contacted by SPM on Tuesday, said he is confident about his return to open-wheel competition. “I’ve never worked with this team but I’m very familiar with the team and it’s a very experienced group of guys,” Briscoe said. “I feel like my engineer, Al McDonald, is one of the best in the entire paddock. I know a number of the mechanics on the team and there’s just a world of experience there. That makes me comfortable.

“This team has had a lot of success in this series at this track. Sam knows everything there is to know about this place and it’s been great talking to him about it. I’m about as comfortable as I can be in this situation.”

Schmidt said Hinchcliffe’s team has remained upbeat, despite losing their popular driver for the foreseeable future.

“(They are) amazing,” Schmidt said. “Basically resilient, because you go from getting the kits so late…just unbelievable work hours and you take a breath and get qualified on Sunday. And then Monday _ boom _ another thing hits you in the face. I fully expected there to be some issues, whether it be morale or attitude or whatever and it hasn’t been that way at all. It’s just been another hurdle, another challenge, for everybody on the team. We’ve been working non-stop; we’ve taken the 250 or 300 hours it takes to prepare a car for this place and done that non-stop since Monday night and we’re here.”

Without an Indy 500 invite this year, Briscoe had decided to enjoy the holiday weekend with wife Nicole and 17-month-old daughter Finley in Farmington, Conn.

“How long has it been since I’ve had a May at home?” Briscoe asked, rhetorically. “But I’m very happy to be here. It’s amazing coming into the Speedway, you just get mentally prepared. All of a sudden, I just feel like I’m 100 percent in the game and can’t wait to get out there.”

The South Boston Waterfront will play host to its first Verizon IndyCar Series race during Labor Day Weekend 2016, INDYCAR officials announced Thursday. The Grand Prix of Boston will feature an 11-turn/2.25-mile temporary street course surrounding the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The event marks the first time INDYCAR has raced in the Metro Boston area, a key Northeast market previously served by the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

“The level of enthusiasm we have received from the Boston community has been phenomenal and we look forward to showcasing the Verizon IndyCar Series on Labor Day Weekend in 2016,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, parent of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “There has been a tremendous amount of work from community leaders and Grand Prix of Boston officials and those efforts led to this key addition to our 2016 calendar.

“We’re thankful to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Grand Prix of Boston CEO Mark Perrone and many other supporters who were instrumental in making today’s announcement possible. Establishing INDYCAR racing in the Northeast is an integral part of our strategy for growing our national fan base.”

Walsh said the race will allow the Boston community to explore another economic engine in a summertime market dominated by MLB’s Boston Red Sox.

“This is an exciting time in Boston and as we explore new ways to grow and attract visitors here, we’re engaging in strong dialogue with organizations like the Grand Prix of Boston,” Walsh said. “This event has great potential to bring an influx of tourism and support our local businesses during what is traditionally a challenging holiday weekend for hospitality. I’m excited to begin this process and hear from our residents and business owners as we move forward.”

A dozen IndyCar Series pit crews will compete for a $50,000 top prize in the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge during Coors Light Carb Day on Friday. A staple since its inception in 1977, the 12-team competition features four rounds of head-to-head pit stop action. A total of $100,000 will be awarded, with the runnerup team earning $15,000.

Teams must change four tires and perform a simulated fuel hookup during each round, with two cars competing against each other. The faster time wins, with time penalties added for various infractions such as loose wheel nuts or running over air hoses. NBC Sports Network will televise the Pit Stop Challenge live as part of its Coors Light Carb Day coverage from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EDT).

Indy 500 pole-sitter Scott Dixon and his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet crew are the defending champions. Team Penske has won a record 14 times, including six for the crew of three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves.

First-round pairings: No. 48 A.J. Foyt Enterprises (driver Alex Tagliani) vs. No. 41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Jack Hawksworth); No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (Charlie Kimball) vs. No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Takuma Sato); No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal) vs. No. 3 Team Penske (Castroneves); and No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Jakes) vs. No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing (Townsend Bell).

Quarterfinal pairings: Nos. 48-41 winner vs. No. 27 Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti); Nos. 83-14 winner vs. No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (Dixon); Nos. 15-3 winner vs. No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Ryan Briscoe); and Nos. 7-24 winner vs. No. 1 Team Penske (Will Power). The four survivors advance to the semifinals, with the winners of that round battling for the Challenge championship.

Second-year 500 driver Sage Karam is undergoing “indoctrination” at Chip Ganassi Racing, courtesy of former Indy 500 champions Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. That trio convinced Karam they all had chipped-in to have his black Chevrolet Camaro detailed as a gesture of team spirit.

Instead, the car returned wrapped in pink Monday, with large No. 8 decals on the doors, a “Karamo” decal across the top of the windshield, pink fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror and a “Honk if you think I’m sexy” decal across the rear window.

“There are so many positives about being a rookie on a team with veterans like Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and Scott Dixon,” said Karam, 20. “But I’ve got to say that the pranks are definitely not one of those positives. I should’ve never let TK take my car to get detailed. They got me for sure with this one. The worst part is that the boss (Chip Ganassi) is saying that I have to drive it around for the rest of May.”

Three-time Indy 500 champion Franchitti has been serving as Karam’s driver coach this season. Karam finished ninth after starting 31s as a rookie in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” last May.

IMS officials unveiled the logo for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, set for May 29, 2016. The logo, which intertwines the “500” and “100” with the Speedway’s iconic wings, will be used in year-long promotions leading up to the historic event.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
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