Sunday, August 28, 2011

INDY Shorts: A Chat with Ryan Briscoe

Although Skirts and Scuffs is known for its NASCAR coverage, our readers have asked that we explore other areas of motorsports. This weekend Skirts and Scuffs is expanding coverage to include the IZOD IndyCar Series and the events leading up to Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. Columnist Lindi Bess had the opportunity to meet with Team Penske's drivers for one-on-one interviews. What follows is the first of three pieces that will introduce our readers to IndyCar and some of their most popular personalities.  



Ryan Briscoe's professional racing career began in 1993 after earning his first championship driving in the Junior Yamaha Australian Championship Series. A move to Italy was his first major step, which had him soon competing around Europe in a variety of different series. Taking the Championship in 2003 in the Formula 3 Euroseries lead to his becoming a back-up driver for Panasonic Toyota Racing in Formula One. This is where he finally got the attention he deserved.

His road to Penske was not one that many would choose to travel. After a crash at Chicagoland Speedway and injuries that led to his being sidelined, he fought his way back, returning the next season. With rides in Champ Car, IndyCar and the Grand-Am Series, he found a home with Team Penske. 

Just prior to Friday's practice session, Ryan sat down with me in the Penske motorcoach, where we discussed his career, wife Nicole, and his relationship with Mr. Penske.


Side of Team Penske's truck. Credit: Lindi Bess for Skirts and Scuffs
LB (Lindi Bess): You are originally from Australia, now living in North Carolina with wife Nicole. Do you come from a large family?
RB (Ryan Briscoe): Pretty large, yeah. Well my immediate family, I just have one sister. But a pretty large extended family.  


LB: Was it your dream as a young boy to become a racecar driver?
RB: I don’t think so. Maybe I just didn’t dream big enough. I never thought it would happen, it certainly is a dream come true.

 
LB: Do you have family members involved in racing?
RB: Yeah, my dad and my uncle, my dad’s brother. They both use to race rally cars.

 
LB: I just saw something on rally car racing the other day. It seems really cool.
RB: Yeah it's not very big in this country. It's big in Australia, and big in Europe, but the U.S. doesn’t seem to know much about it.
 
LB: I see a different kind of passion in IndyCar in comparison to NASCAR. How do you explain the passion for the sport and how do you handle it when the heat is on?
RB: I don’t know. I just have a passion for racing, driving and winning. I've had the same kind of passion in any car I’ve ever driven. Coming from the go-karts to the various sportscars that I’ve raced as well. How do I describe it? I’m not sure, I mean unfortunately it's one of those sports, unless you're Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson, you just don’t win as much as you lose. Which makes winning that much more special. It gives you so much drive and determination to go out and perform well.
 
LB: In NASCAR, the "powers that be" like to have them out there with the "Boys Have at It" type of mentality. Is that something that is true with Indy as well? Is there any discussion about it?
RB: Well we don’t have bumpers. (we all laugh)

LB: This is certainly true.
RB: We just race hard and try not to hit each other.

LB: Recently your teammates have been very forthcoming with their emotions on the track, most recently during the race in Loudon. What were your thoughts regarding Will’s gesture and do you feel the fine was fitting for his actions?
RB: Well, I think that he shouldn’t have done the bird to national TV and the crowd, but I can certainly justify his anger.

LB: In NASCAR we hear a lot about coolboxes and drivers dealing with heat exhaustion. Is that something you have to worry about as you're driving in IndyCar?
RB: No. I think it's not as hot in an IndyCar. Our cars are a lot heavier to drive. I mean, we don’t have power steering and we have a much small steering wheel and cockpit and stuff, but we have a lot more airflow and there is just not physically enough room to put in a coolbox. So if it's really hot, you just have to deal with it. But we’re never dealing with the hot temperatures that are dealt with in a NASCAR.

LB: Do you ever think about crossing over to NASCAR?
RB: I’m not for or against it. I’m loving IndyCar racing, but I’m a racecar driver. Just depends on what opportunities are out there.

Ryan has been with Team Penske since 2007. He drove sports cars in 2007 and since then has 6 wins, 31 top-5s, 50 top-10s, 11 poles and is currently in 6th in points for the season. Ryan’s last visit to Infineon Raceway brought him a 4th-place finish.


LB: How do you keep the momentum going on your team?
RB: We just keep pushing. We’re extremely motivated at the moment and I think we’ve been performing well. Wins have been hard to come by this year, but we’ve been running at the front and motivation is certainly not lacking.

LB: Mr. Penske is very well respected in the motorsports world. How would you describe your relationship with him?
RB: It's good. It's close. Because ever since I’ve been on the team in '07, he’s been my strategist at all of my races, so every race he’s talking to me and me talking to him. So we’ve grown to have a very good relationship. It's still such an honor to race for him. He’s just an amazing person. It's just awesome.

LB: Who do you consider to be your biggest threat on the racetrack on any given week?
RB: There are so many every weekend in IndyCar. I think it's the most competitive season we've ever had. I think you've definitely got to look at (Dario) Franchitti, he's just always there, he's won the last couple of championships.

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Ryan on the track during qualifying at Infineon.

LB: It's been a while since IndyCar and CART integrated. What would you say is best about the reunion? And what do you miss about CART?
RB: I only ever did two random races in CART. So I've really just been in IndyCar. I was in IndyCar before the reunion of the two and ever since the two have come together it's just become more competitive, bigger fields. More competitive on driver's standpoint, more competitive on the team standpoint ... it's just exactly where it needs to be.


Nicole and Ryan
LB: Pros and challenges with being married to a sports journalist. Have you ever felt a conflict of interest with Nicole or have you been lucky enough that she has never had to write about you?
RB: I think it's more a question about her because she would have to do the writing. But yeah, I mean we've talked about it a little bit. I think you know with me racing IndyCar, it would be difficult if she took up a job to commentate or report on IndyCar because it would so difficult to be unbiased. The same thing it would be if I ended up going to NASCAR. I'm not sure. It would be a good question for her to see how she'd be able to handle it. It wouldn't be unprecedented, but it would be a challenge.

LB: Back when I interviewed her she said that she is the one who wears the firesuit in the family …
RB: Yeah, I’d say so. (laughs)

LB: Do you see the new car and engine coming in 2012 to be a positive move for Indy?
RB: Absolutely. It's gonna be a faster car. It's gonna be a safer car. It's gonna be a better-looking car.

LB: I saw a prototype or a drawing of one, looks pretty nice.
RB: Yeah they've already started testing them.

LB: For the most part, our readers are stockcar fans. We're introducing them to IndyCar. What would you say to a stockcar fan to get them to at least give Indy a try?
RB: I don't know. It depends on what they are into. If they like open wheel racing or not. (With) IndyCar the biggest difference is speed. IndyCars are a lot faster. And the racing is very good. But you'rE not going to see as many crashes as you see in NASCAR, which I think is probably one of the biggest attractions to fans. They love to see the cars going upside down and crashing on the green and white checkered. But IndyCar racing is a pure motor racing sport with some of the biggest talents from around the world. It's not just the drivers who are drawn to IndyCar from all parts of the world. It's just a very broad range of talent and fun to watch. I'm not going to convince anybody. You've got to be into it.

LB: Well thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. Have you gotten a chance to get out on the track today?
RB: We get on track today at 3:30. It's just a half-hour today then it's busy tomorrow.

RB: (Final Comment) IndyCar is a sprint race, but it's action from the time the green flag waves to the end. You can't treat the race like a test session, which I think most cars do in NASCAR. Just setting up the car, dialing it in. You can go a lap or two down in NASCAR and come back and win the race. In IndyCar, you can't afford to make mistakes.
 
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Ryan speaks to the press after qualifying Saturday at Infineon.
Credit: Lindi Bess for Skirts and Scuffs



After Friday’s practice, Ryan was quoted having said, “We feel good about the laps we did today (Friday) in the Penske Truck Rental car, though the speed doesn't really show it. We learned a few things in practice and where we need to go. Now we'll focus on getting into it more tomorrow to keep improving." 

On Saturday, Aug. 27, IndyCar ran their qualifying session for Sunday’s race. I am happy to report that Team Penske holds the top 3 spots. Will Power took the pole with Helio Castroneves and Briscoe right behind him. This is the team's first 1-2-3 qualifying effort for the 2011 season.

Ryan’s qualifying time was 01:19:1112 at a speed of 104.799 mph. This placed him in 3rd and part of Firestone's FAST 6.


In closing, I want to thank Team Penske, Helio Castroneves, Will Power (Will and Helio's interviews will be up on Skirts and Scuffs in the next few hours) and Ryan Briscoe as well as their PR representative Merrill Cain. Merrill made this first step into Indy one that I will always remember by allowing me to spend time with these three championship drivers and get to know them so I could in turn bring them to our readers. It was a high point in my young career as a writer/columnist, not soon forgotten.

I would also like to thank Kim Martin, who assisted me with the Penske interviews. She was an asset to me with her support and her love for IndyCar and NASCAR.
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The WIN Series is exclusive to Skirts and Scuffs and was created by Lindi Bess. The first original column to the site, a niche that Lindi felt was missing in NASCAR coverage. Bringing our readers interviews with some of NASCAR's most notable females such as Samantha Busch, Kim Wallace, Krista Voda, DeLana Harvick, Wendy Venturini and many more. Lindi has also recently interviewed drivers such as Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann and Andy Lally. If you've missed any of Lindi's interviews, just click on her name on the Skirts and Scuffs home page. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to tweet me at @LindiB_NASCAR or leave a comment at the bottom of an interview. I read all comments. Thank you.

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