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Ben Smith

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Pole Day
Schedule
Gates open: 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Practice: 8-10 a.m.
Qualifying, first segment: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Fast Nine pole qualifying: 4:30-6 p.m.
Tickets: $15; children 12 and younger free
Honorary starter: Colts coach Chuck Pagano
Briscoe, who drove for Roger Penske last season, was without a ride before Chip Ganassi called.
Indianapolis 500

Briscoe’s long road back

Associated Press photos
Ryan Briscoe will try to win his second straight Indianapolis 500 pole during qualifying today.

– The road to today began on an airplane, and Ryan Briscoe was nowhere near it. Good a way as any to start this particular Pole Day tale.

Good a way as any to explain how Briscoe got back to where he is, which is right where he was a year ago when he won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500. If that sounds like a linear progression, it is not. There are twists and turns and things coming loose from their moorings along the way, and then those same things falling back into place, at least of a fashion.

And so begin with this: That airplane.

Briscoe wasn’t on it, but Chip Ganassi and his managing director, Mike Hull, were. And suddenly a thought occurred to Ganassi, as it frequently does to a guy whose race team has won 89 career IndyCar races, nine titles and four Indy 500s.

“Where’s Briscoe?” he said.

“I don’t think he’s anywhere,” Hull replied.

“What? Well, we got to get him,” Ganassi said.

And Hull said, “OK.” And they went and got him. And that’s how the reigning Indy polesitter wound up back here today, looking to do it again.

“It was just a matter of Mike and I having the conversation,” Ganassi recalls. “It took, like I said, about five minutes, maybe.”

And an eternity, it must have seemed, for Briscoe, who lost his ride with Roger Penske after last season and had already committed to running the American LeMans sports car series for Level 5 Motorsports before Ganassi called.

He’d talked to Sarah Fisher’s team and he’d talked to Panther and neither had panned out, so there he was: An eight-time Indy veteran with no ride for Indy.

“Penske gave me a lot of sort of warning to get myself prepared for this year,” Briscoe says now. “So the way it all went down was very honest. It was all good. It was just business.

“But things were really looking positive until nothing came through. Then it just became tough. We couldn’t have done anything differently; it was just the nature of the beast during the offseason. Teams were so short at that point.”

And then Ganassi called. The deal was for Indy and Indy only, but at least it was Indy. And Briscoe was already familiar with Ganassi’s operation, having driven for him in 2005, when he finished 10th in the 500 as a rookie.

“It’s been a very smooth transition,” says Briscoe, who put up a top practice lap of 225.265 Friday on a storm-shortened day when, with everyone in qualifying trim, E.J. Viso posted the fastest time at 229.537.

“I feel I really just come in with the same mindset as Scott (Dixon) or Dario (Franchitti) or Charlie (Kimball) has. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything.”

Ganassi, meanwhile, gets a driver who’s qualified three times on the front row here, and who won eight times and never finished lower than sixth in points in six seasons with Penske.

“If a guy like that’s available, we’ve got to get him,” Ganassi said.

Needless to say, Briscoe was only too eager to be gotten.

“They said, ‘Look, you want to do this?’ ” he says. “Didn’t take long to say yes.”

Do tell.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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