As RACER first documented in November and again in our recent Silly Season update, open-wheel veteran Ryan Briscoe was been the leading candidate to complete Chip Ganassi Racing’s lineup, and will rejoin the program as the final member of the team’s four-pronged IndyCar Series effort. 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan, who was signed to the Ganassi team in October as the pilot of the No. 8 NTT Data- and TNT Energy Drink-sponsored No. 8 Chevy, will move to the No. 10 Target Chevy, vacating the No. 8 for Briscoe.
“This is just great news and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the No. 8 car again,” said Briscoe, who wheeled the No. 8 to a 12th-place finish for the team at Indy. “We built some great chemistry during the month of May this year with the whole crew. I think all four drivers can win races next season and it’s not every day you get to be a part of a team like that. For me personally it’s been an amazing last few days this announcement coupled with the birth of our first child just a few days back. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
After completing a partial season for Panther Racing in 2013, the 32-year-old Australian inked a contract for a full-time drive with the outfit for 2014. Briscoe recently secured a release from the team, paving the way to sign with the reigning IndyCar Series champions after four-time series champion Dario Franchitti was forced to retire after sustaining career-ending injuries at the Houston Grand Prix.
Briscoe joins three-time series champion Scott Dixon, who he drove with in Target Chip Ganassi Racing colors during the 2005 season (RIGHT), the incoming Kanaan, and race-winning Ganassi pilot Charlie Kimball, helping to form one of the strongest multi-car teams in open-wheel racing.
A five-year stint with Team Penske marked Briscoe’s most effective period in IndyCar, earning seven victories, five consecutive finishes of sixth or better in the championship and a fighting third in the 2009 title run. His contract was not renewed at the conclusion of the 2012 season, leading Briscoe to ink a full-season deal to drive for the Level 5 Motorsports American Le Mans Series program.
He was drafted into the Ganassi team as a fourth driver for the Indy 500, representing sponsor NTT Data, and soon found more work with Panther after the team released JR Hildebrand prior to the Detroit double-header. He appeared to be Panther’s solution to represent the National Guard until Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was awarded the contract, but with the ongoing questions as to how and when that sponsorship will be dispersed, Briscoe found a more stable situation in the Ganassi camp.
Kanaan’s Ganassi announcement at Houston placed the Brazilian in the No. 8 entry, which was finalized with direct financial support from his cache of personal backers. Kanaan had been mentioned as replacement for his dear friend Franchitti in the No. 10 Target car, but with the need to carry the branding of TNT and his other sponsors, sharing real estate on the Target car was seen the biggest hurdle to overcome. With the necessary solution found, Kanaan will now drive the car he initially turned down in 2009, which allowed Franchitti to return to Indy car racing and win three consecutive titles with the team.
Announcement of the new Ganassi lineup at the PRI trade show. (Photo courtesy of Kanaan Racing)
“I’m extremely excited, but this is a very bittersweet day for me as many of you know,” said Kanaan. “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. I want to thank NTT DATA, Target and TNT Energy drink for looking at the big picture and making adjustments so that Scott, Ryan, Charlie and I can go out and get the job done for all our partners on track next season. 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.”
Kanaan, who joined Ganassi after two season with KV Racing, brought his engineer Eric Cowdin to look after his No. 8 car, but with his move to the No. 10, Kanaan will now work with engineer Chris Simmons, who teamed with Franchitti for two Indy 500s and the three IndyCar titles from 2009-2013. Cowdin is expected to work with Briscoe on the No. 8.
With Briscoe’s signing, the IndyCar Series finds itself with most of its 2014 grid in place at one of the earliest stages in recent memory. Few genuine openings remain in the paddock, with second seats at Dale Coyne Racing, KV Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing generating the most interest at the moment.
Barracuda Racing has yet to name a driver for its entry, but most of the candidates for the ride have been identified. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is looking to make a full-time return, Dragon Racing’s plans are unknown, the outcome of Panther Racing’s sponsorship hearing has left that program in limbo, and some seats could become available if expansions by Andretti Autosport to five cars and A.J. Foyt Racing to two cars takes place.