With Hornish chasing NASCAR dreams, Briscoe fills void at Penske
Penske Racing bosses didn't have to look long -- or far -- to fill the void left by Sam Hornish Jr., who'll drive a Cup car full time in 2008. The newest IndyCar talent in the Penske garage? Ryan Briscoe.
It's a busy time in terms of driver movement at Penske Racing. But team bosses Roger Penske and Tim Cindric never had to hunt outside the confines of the team's 105-acre complex in Mooresville, N.C.
In simple terms, Sam Hornish Jr. is moving from the building that houses Penske's IRL IndyCar Series team to Penske South's adjacent facility. The three-time IndyCar champ will move full time into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008, driving Penske's new No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge.
Meanwhile, Penske didn't even have to look across the parking lot to find Hornish's IndyCar replacement. Ryan Briscoe spent 2007 driving for Penske's factory Porsche effort in the American Le Mans Series, which operates out of the same shop.
The 26-year-old Australian also drove a thinly disguised Penske entry in the 2007 Indianapolis 500, finishing a solid fifth. All together, it convinced Roger Penske that Briscoe was the ideal replacement for Hornish.
"Ryan has been a great addition to our organization," Penske said. "He did a terrific job at Indianapolis this year, and delivered for us in our ALMS program.
"Obviously, he has big shoes to fill with Sam moving over to our NASCAR team, but he has shown us that he has the talent to win in the IndyCar Series."
Briscoe raced Indy-style cars for Target/Ganassi Racing in 2005, making 15 starts. He admits that he tried too hard to compensate for a lack of horsepower and crashed a few cars, most notably a fiery, flying wreck at Chicagoland Speedway that ended his season early (and subsequently became a YouTube staple).
Out at Ganassi's at the end of '05, Briscoe drifted from ride to ride in 2006. He finished a notable third at Watkins Glen in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's IndyCar ride and made a couple of exploratory Champ Car starts for RuSPORT Racing at the end of the season.
It's doubtful that Penske had a succession plan in place when he hired Briscoe to partner with Sascha Maassen in the Porsche LMP2 prototype this year. But things worked out nicely for everyone.
"It's really amazing," Briscoe observed. "It's sort of a dream position for a driver to get the chance to come back full time to the IndyCar Series, and I'm extremely excited.
"I hope I can live up to the expectations and do a great job, and I can't wait to get it all started."
The Sydney native is based in North Carolina near the Penske shop and he has gotten to know many of the IndyCar team members over the the last year. He already has tested one of Penske's Dallara-Hondas at Sebring International Raceway and the Milwaukee Mile.
His performance at Indy last May with Penske equipment run under the Luczo-Dragon Racing name also impressed the team.
"It was just a great opportunity for them to see me in that situation, taking part all month and do the most important race of the year," Briscoe recalled. "I guess I was probably under the eye of Roger, and we ran competitively all month and had a good race. I think it definitely helped."
Trading Briscoe for Hornish will strengthen the Penske IndyCar team's road course attack, but, with only 13 oval starts in his career, he'll need to often rely on teammate Helio Castroneves' experience.
"He's a real fun guy and we get along great," Briscoe said. "We get along great and I've got no doubt that we're going to be great teammates."
Mansell name returns to Champ Car
The formula now known as the Champ Car World Series got a major boost in 1993 when reigning Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell raced in America for Newman/Haas Racing. For a 40-year-old who had never raced on an oval, Mansell picked up on the art pretty quickly (with a little help from Mario Andretti's setups), and four of his five race wins came on oval tracks as Mansell became the self-proclaimed "Double World Champion."
Champ Car hopes that the Mansell name still resonates with American racing fans the way it does in England. His sons Greg and Leo will drive for Walker Racing in the 2008 Cooper Tires Atlantic Championship, chasing the $2 million toward a Champ Car ride that goes to the development series champion.
Champ Car management has focused on strengthening the Atlantic series over the last couple of years and the recruitment of the Mansell brothers should build on that momentum.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity to go racing," said Nigel Mansell. "They've just completed the British Formula 3 series and the Atlantic car is stepped up with 100 horsepower more. I think the package that the Champ Car Atlantic Series has is a great end game for stepping up into motorsports."
Greg, who at age 20 is the younger by two years, was the more successful Mansell in F3 last year, taking 10th in the British championship with a handful of podium finishes.
"We don't know what it's like not to be a Mansell, so we don't really think about it much," Greg said. "Obviously, there are perks and there are downfalls. There is a little more interest than anyone else would have got and it started out as pressure from the start. But now we can turn it into positives and hopefully use it to get some more sponsors and media attention. It's all really exciting and I'm getting excited about this year coming up."
Walker Racing will field a third Atlantic car for Canadian Kevin Lacroix, and Derrick Walker hopes to retain drivers Will Power and Simon Pagenaud and possibly add a third Champ Car to his Team Australia operation.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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