Given that I’m tipping him as a victory contender for the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in our preview [click here], it seemed a good idea to get circuit tips from NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ryan Briscoe, who took pole here in 2012 and finished runner-up in 2011.
RACER: Looking ahead to this weekend, your recent history at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach suggests you’re the Ganassi driver most likely to be fighting for the win. So at, what do you ask from your car at this track – do you want it pointy, or do you prefer a stable rear end?
RB: The basic thing is that you need a car that gives you confidence, because a lot of corners have you turning in at pretty high speed. In fact…come to thing of it, at Long Beach they’re all pretty fast-entry corners except 2, 3 and 11 so you want a setup where you can release the brakes and throw the car in. Quite a secure rear end is the obvious way to do that but everyone gets their confidence in different ways.
Like any street course, you have to believe in the line and speed you’re taking right from turn-in, even when the corner’s blind. It’s not like other street courses where you brake in a straight line, turn the car through 90 degrees and go. There are more varieties of corner at Long Beach, so in that regard I guess it’s a bit like a road course but with all your typical street course issues thrown in too – bumps, surface changes and walls.
And I guess the variations in the type of corner means there’s more that a driver can do to make the difference. I remember when you took pole in 2012, it was heart-stopping how close you got to the wall in Turn 8. You were actually inside the apex curbing there…
That’s funny, because I remember when we did the track walk on the Thursday that year, I told [Penske teammate Will] Power, “This is how you need to take Turn 8.” And I was thinking to myself, ‘Why the hell am I giving away my secret to him?!” But then I got pole, basically because I drilled him through that corner, and I said to him afterward, “Dude, I even told you how to take it!”
Yeah, that’s a unique corner, there’s definitely a way to take it ultra-fast and obviously with that long straight that follows, hitting it as fast as you can is going to pay off all the way along.
It looks like a high-risk strategy that you maybe only try if you’re absolutely going for it in qualifying or the race…
Yeah, and I’m not saying I get it right every time, but when you do, there’s definitely good time to be gained there. But if you miss the precise target, there’s a high chance it will lift you up and throw you into the outside wall on the exit!
And, braking from high speed for Turn 9, how hard is it to not overdrive? Because although the exit is reasonably wide, if you use it all, that must really screw up your entry to Turn 10 and that curve around to the final hairpin…
Hmm, that’s a funny combination of corners around there, and comparing my traces with any teammates I’ve had in IndyCar or sports cars around there, there’s often a trade-off. Some will brake later into 9 and don’t mind running a bit wider, forcing them onto a sharper line around 10. It really just comes down to what’s best for the car you’re in.
What I find interesting about it is that you’re braking in the shadows, it’s bumpy and it’s a bit of a blind apex too, but it’s still fast; we take it in third gear. But you’re right, sometimes it’s worth taking just a little bit more speed off, giving yourself a bit of extra room on the exit which then also leaves you on a better line for Turn 10.
Is there a major difference between the lines you take in a sports car and an Indy car around Long Beach?
I adapt my driving quite a lot depending on how the car’s handling, and sometimes that works to my benefit and sometimes it doesn’t – like I sometimes drive around problems instead of focusing on fixing them. So it’s the handling of the car rather than the type of car that defines how you’re going to drive around Long Beach: I don’t recall there being a specific difference in line. Actually, in the Porsche RS Spyder, I recall the apex speeds and braking points were pretty much the same as the IndyCar at the time.
Those were magical cars…
I remember in Detroit in ’08, when I did both the American Le Mans Series race and the IndyCar race, we overlaid the qualifying traces and the IndyCar was only one second quicker – and the track conditions had been better for the IndyCar. The only differences we could see were in straightline – IndyCar had better acceleration and top speed because the sports car is heavier. Corner speeds were almost identical.
Given the length of Shoreline Drive, and the fact that that whatever downforce settings you run, you can’t get onto it at more than about 35mph, on race day will you trim out wings so no one can pass you, even though it hurts your actual lap speed?
Well, having more downforce is probably the right way to go in qualifying – ultimately, it’s faster because of the high-speed corners. But on race day, yeah, you may want to go trimmed out to give you an extra couple of miles per hour. But remember, the back straight is quite long, too, and like we were saying, if you can’t take Turn 8 quick enough because you’ve gone too light on downforce and can’t carry enough speed in, then you could lose out under braking for Turn 9 even to a car that’s actually slower than you in a straight line.
Then, deciding on gearing is another crucial part of the acceleration equation. And also, if you go too light on downforce, are you going to be using your tires too quick because you’re sliding more? As usual, the whole thing is a compromise.
So from a personal perspective, how’s the comparison between Target Chip Ganassi Racing and the “G2” element of the team?
Well, I’m back with a race-winning combination and that’s feeling good. How close are G1 and G2, as you put it? As close as we could hope; Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull are putting a lot of effort into improving the performance of the team as a whole. I have no doubts that the equipment is 100 percent the same between all four cars, and I really get the feeling they’d be equally happy to see any of us winning any given race. That’s the No. 1 thing from a driver’s standpoint – knowing you’ve got that support and you’ve got an equal chance to win.
My team is relatively new as a group but some have come over from the Target side – for example, I’ve got Ricky Davis [ex-Scott Dixon] as chief mechanic on my car, and the team’s also getting a new engineering truck which will help the dialogue on a race weekend, with everyone debriefing in the same room.
And you have as much input into the technical setup direction of the team overall?
Yeah, everything’s totally transparent. I’ve been making a point of going up into the engineering room and doing my own debrief. Actually after third practice at St. Pete [where he finished top of the charts] I was actually summoned up there! Everything goes on the server and everyone has access to it.
And I’m assuming you haven’t started thinking points yet. You’re going for the win this weekend?
Definitely. That’s the goal: to try to do the best in every situation, but I won’t be entirely happy unless I win – I’m a racing driver! I was a bit disappointed with the result at St. Pete, but the way the weekend went overall was encouraging, in that we showed good turns of speed. We just didn’t execute in qualifying as well as we’d liked, and the race was up and down. But it gave us plenty of data and guidance regarding setups and tires as we head to Long Beach. We’re excited about this weekend.