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Briscoe has line on big IndyCar year

– Out of a ride at the start of the year, Ryan Briscoe is in position to pull off a prestigious sweep.

Chip Ganassi Racing last week hired Briscoe to run the Indianapolis 500 next month, giving him a ride for one of the biggest races in the world. He’s also scheduled to run the 24 Hours of LeMans in June, and a sweep would allow him to join A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win both races in the same year.

The opportunities have left Briscoe optimistic about his future and not dwelling on not having a full-time IndyCar ride.

“I am definitely a very positive natured person and this gives me the opportunity to do Le Mans this year which is a huge event and otherwise I wouldn’t be able to,” Briscoe said. “This deal probably wouldn’t have come about if things would have gone differently. So maybe this is meant to be. I’m excited. I’m very happy with the way that things are going.

“Every time I am in a race car, every time I am with the team, whoever it is, I just want to do my best and make my best impression and move forward.”

Briscoe had been in talks with the Ganassi team for Indianapolis this year but sponsorship never materialized. Still available two weeks ago, Ganassi decided last year’s pole-winner needed to be in the race. They put together a deal, and sponsor NTT Data stepped in to fund the effort.

“What Chip Ganassi Racing has always been about, truthfully, is trying to have drivers at the caliber of Ryan drive our race cars,” team manager Mike Hull said. “So with that itself it is important to us to have an accomplished, and very, very well-represented race car drivers. And now we have a fourth one for Indy 500.”

Hunter-Reay tops in practice

Defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in Friday’s practice at Long Beach, where Mike Conway made his return seven months after walking away from IndyCar.

Hunter-Reay, who won two weeks ago at Barber, ran a lap at 1:09.4224 in his Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

Conway was second for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The Englishman walked away from his seat before last season’s finale because he was uncomfortable racing on ovals. But the 2011 Long Beach winner landed a one-race deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan for Sunday’s race.

“Got rid of the cobwebs and the car felt good,” Conway said. “I’m happy to be here, don’t feel rusty. I’ve been thinking about this race since January.”

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