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Ryan Briscoe lands a top ride with Ganassi

Ryan Briscoe missed last season's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and competed in six IndyCar races for Panther Racing.
Ryan Briscoe missed last season's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and competed in six IndyCar races for Panther Racing.
Published Mar. 27, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — After Ryan Briscoe lost his Team Penske ride before the 2013 season, the 2009 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner wasn't sure if he'd be able to return to one of the sport's top rides.

"You have your doubts, for sure," Briscoe said during Thursday's green flag luncheon at the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club. "But I never gave up hope."

The 32-year-old Australian, who has finished among the top five in three of his past four races here, simply bounced from one of IndyCar's powerhouses to the other, landing the fourth Chip Ganassi Racing ride in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

Briscoe missed last season's Grand Prix and competed in six IndyCar races for Panther Racing. Ganassi gave him a car for the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 12th. That restarted conversations and eventually landed Briscoe a full-time ride.

Though he raced in only seven of last year's 19 IndyCar events, Briscoe used the time to try other racing events. He won the 12 Hours of Sebring and raced at the fabled 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"It actually turned out to be a really, exciting, fun year," Briscoe said, "and set me up well for this year."

GOT RAIN? If weather forecasts prove accurate, drivers and fans can expect rain for practice, qualifying or both. The National Weather Service calls for a 50 percent chance of rain today and a 60 percent chance Saturday, the day of IndyCar qualifying.

"It seems like every year at least one session's in the wet," defending race winner James Hinchcliffe said. "Typical Florida weather, right?"

Racing in the rain presents some challenges; from decreased visibility to the threat of hydroplaning to how different surfaces handle water on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

"When it's raining, it's rarely consistent all the way around the track," Briscoe said. "You get puddles, so you get varying grip conditions."

This year's schedule and forecasts have another wrinkle.

Skies are supposed to turn sunny by Sunday's race. That means race-day conditions could be completely different from practice conditions, forcing teams to throw out their recent data and rely more on previous years' setups.

"If it's dry for the first time on Sunday," Briscoe said, "you just go."

CHANGING COURSE: USF2000 driver RC Enerson's approach to education has been similar to what athletes in sports such as figure skating and tennis have established. Online courses have become the norm.

Enerson, a junior from New Port Richey who went to Gulf High the past two years, tried attending classes as a regular student.

But the rigors of driving in the IndyCar's developmental series, which starts during the school year, made that tough.

"Last year, I attended a few classes and took the rest online," Enerson said. "But even that was hard because of the racing schedule. It was a lot to make up."

Now Enerson takes all of his classes online through Florida Virtual School.

"It's helped a lot to do everything online," Enerson said. "I'm actually ahead in my coursework and should be able to graduate in December."

Enerson is one of the favorites to be a top driver in the USF2000 series after last month's performance at Winterfest, where he won two of the six races and had two other top-three finishes.

"I had an amazing car," Enerson said. "And to be able to perform that well this early in the season gives me a lot of confidence and momentum going into this weekend's races in St. Petersburg."

DATE SET: Race organizers announced next year's Grand Prix will take place March 27-29.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter at @MattHomeTeam. Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com or on Twitter at @BobbyHomeTeam.

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