INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Briscoe has been named the replacement driver for Hinchcliffe, who continues to recover from serious injuries suffered in a massive crash in the turn three wall of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.
The driver from Oakville, Ontario, continues to make impressive improvement from leg injuries when a suspension road pierced through the safety cell of the car, entered Hinchcliffe’s right leg, continued into his left thigh and into his pelvis. Hinchcliffe lost a massive amount of blood but was saved by the Holmatro Safety Crew.
This is the first race Briscoe will drive an IndyCar with the Aero Kits that were introduced to Verizon IndyCar Series competition this season.
“I’m curious,” Briscoe admitted. “I won’t learn much about that today but I’ve talked to several drivers and there are some characteristics that are similar. It’s been harder on the engineers than the drivers. I’m not expecting it to be too unfamiliar but we’ll have to wait and see.
“I’ve never worked with this team but I am quite familiar with them. It’s an experienced team from top to bottom. My engineer, Allen McDonald, is one of the best in the paddock. I know some of the crew members and this team has had a lot of success in this series at the track. I’ve been made as comfortable as I can be under the situation.
“The setup is driven by the Aero Kit in terms to how the car is balanced.”
Briscoe admitted he didn’t think Hinchcliffe’s crash was that serious until he heard how badly he had been injured. He started thinking about the possibility and then the phone rang in his Connecticut home from Schmidt.
“The media has put quite a negative spin on the whole month and you hear the worst of it,” Briscoe said. “But I talked to quite a few drivers who gave me a lot of comfort like Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti. That gave me a lot of confidence.
“All of a sudden I feel 100 percent in the game and can’t wait to get out there. I wish Hinch were here but it’s an opportunity that has been given to me and I will give it my 100 percent best.”
Hinchcliffe underwent surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital on Monday to repair the large amount of soft tissue damage that he suffered.
Briscoe was given a one-hour “familiarization session” in the No. 7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. Because he is replacing an already qualified entry he will start 32nd in the 33-car field for Sunday’s Indy 500.
The driver from Sydney, Australia, has competed in nine previous Indianapolis 500s. He finished fifth in 2007 for Luczo-Dragon Racing and fifth in 2012 for Team Penske. He started on the pole in 2012. Briscoe has competed for Chip Ganassi Racing in the past two Indy 500s with a 12th-place finish in 2013 and an 18th-place in 2014.
This year, Briscoe did not have an IndyCar ride and is driving the Chevrolet Corvette in IMSA Sports Car racing. He will also be competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Briscoe has three front-row starts in the Indianapolis 500.
“My first thoughts go to James,” Briscoe said. “You never want to be part of a situation like this. My best wishes for him and his recovery. You have this opportunity and it’s great. Coming into the Indy 500 the day before Carb Day is not the ideal situation. You prepare for this race one year out and you visualize how you will go through practice and all the prep that you need to do and now something like this comes up and you throw it out the window. The experience that I have had and what Hinch has done with Allen McDonald, the engineer, putting this race car in really good condition for the race I feel confident a few laps today and on Carb Day with the other competitors I will feel the groove again and get up to speed.
“We’ll be starting on the last row, feel it out and patience will be key as always. I have to take any experience I’ve had here in any of the cars I’ve driven and put it to use on Sunday.”
Briscoe promised to give his best shot to get the car up to the front on Sunday. Team owner Sam Schmidt had plans on putting Briscoe into a third car for the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year but that didn’t materialize.
“Ironically we took a big swing three or four months ago to put Ryan in a third car for the 500 but didn’t get it completed on the commercial side,” team owner Sam Schmidt said. “After what happened Monday he was still available. He is smooth in the seat and we certainly have high expectations for him this year. He is easy, smooth and already licensed in the series. We have really high expectations after we watched him go to the back at the start and work his way all the way to the front.
“It’s as good as it could be considering the situation.”
Schmidt said his team has been “amazingly resilient” after Hinchcliffe’s brutal crash on Monday when a front suspension piece broke and protruded the tub.
“We’re here,” Schmidt said. “It goes to the character of the team and the effort of the team that we have. They have been working non-stop to prepare a car since Monday night and we are here.”
Schmidt can’t wait for Hinchcliffe to return to racing and believes he will be back in the car sooner rather than later. Meantime, the team has not confirmed his replacement in the No. 7 car after Sunday’s Indy 500.
“We just want to get through Sunday, biggest race of the year, biggest race in the world,” Schmidt said. “That is our total focus right now.”