Chip Ganassi Racing has announced that it has signed up Ryan Briscoe to drive for the team in 2014 in what is described as a "multi-year" deal.
Briscoe will be at the wheel of the #8 car sponsored by NTT DATA, which had originally been planned as Tony Kanaan's car for next season. Kanaan announced in October that he was joining the team for next season and the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion had expected to be on the grid alongside the team's existing line-up of Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball and reigning series champion Scott Dixon.
However, Franchitti's enforced retirement from the sport as a result of injuries sustained in a huge accident later in the same month at Houston has meant a re-think in terms of strategy and line-up for the team in 2014, with Kanaan now being moved to succeed his old friend Franchitti in the iconic #10 Target car.
"Honestly, it is always refreshing when you have partners that get the big picture and both Target and NTT DATA both understand that," said Chip Ganassi, thanking the team's sponsors for making the switch possible.
That left the vacant #8 seat up for grabs, with Ganassi keen on securing the services of Briscoe. Briscoe made his IndyCar début with Ganassi in 2005 and later spent five seasons at Penske, before a lack of sponsorship saw him released by the team at the end of last year.
Briscoe made a quick return to the series with an outing in the 2013 Indy 500 with Ganassi, and then had six races with Panther Racing including one event at Toronto that saw him break his wrist. Briscoe had been expected to race with Panther in 2014 before the opening at Ganassi came up.
"This is just great news and I can't wait to get back behind the wheel of the #8 car again," said Briscoe after the announcement. "We built some great chemistry during the month of May this year with the whole crew. I think all four drivers can win races next season and it's not every day you get to be a part of a team like that.
"For me personally it's been an amazing last few days - this announcement coupled with the birth of our first child just a few days back. I couldn't be happier right now," he added. Briscoe - who spent much of this year racing in the American Le Mans Series with Level 5 Motorsports - has 111 starts, seven wins, 12 poles, 27 podiums and over 1,400 laps led over eight seasons of competing in the IndyCar Series, with a best finish of third in the championship in 2009.
"This is the best of both worlds," said Ganassi, in agreement with his new signing. "We not only get the driver that we wanted to add to our team in Ryan Briscoe but in addition we are able to put them in the cars that I felt were the most appropriate. The news couldn't really be better for all of our teams."
Kanaan was also happy with the reshuffle and his new team mate, although he was still sad that he wouldn't have the chance to race alongside Franchitti anymore.
"I'm extremely excited, but this is a very bittersweet day for me as many of you know," he said. " On one hand I'm driving for the Target Team and couldn't be more thrilled about the possibilities for next season. On the other hand I'm taking over the seat my good friend Dario had to leave.
"I was looking forward to reuniting with him more than anything as a teammate," said Kanaan, who after 15 seasons of IndyCar Series racing has 276 starts, 16 wins, 15 poles and over 3,336 laps led. While 2013 was his first Indy 500 victory, Kanaan is also the 2004 Series Champion, as well as the active leader in consecutive starts with 215 consecutive Indy car starts dating back to the Portland CART event in 2001.
"I want to thank NTT DATA, Target and TNT Energy drink for looking at the big picture and making adjustments so that Scott, Ryan, Charlie and I can go out and get the job done for all our partners on track next season," Kanaan added. "The teamwork that has been shown here is a true reflection of Chip's style as an owner. I can't wait to get started."
"We are thrilled to renew our association with Ryan," said John McCain, President and CEO, NTT DATA, Inc. "He made an incredibly positive impression on the NTT DATA team and we can't wait to see him in the #8 running alongside these other three exceptionally talented drivers.
"While we are going to miss Tony, we are strong believers in tradition and are pleased to be in a position to help honour the legacy of the #10 car and the unique bond TK has with its last two drivers," McCain added, referring not only to Franchitti but also to Dan Wheldon before him. NTT Data will play a role in sponsoring all four cars next season.
"Tony Kanaan's history with Chip Ganassi's organization and close friendship with Dario Franchitti have already made him feel like part of the family," offered Gregg Steinhafel, President and CEO of the Target retail giant. "Today we welcome Tony to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. As one of the most admired drivers on the track, we know our guests will be thrilled to see Tony sport the bullseye and bring his signature enthusiasm and driving prowess to Team Target."Main picture photo credit: Lynne Huntting