Ryan Briscoe has been part of the Ford works team for three years now. The experienced driver’s impressive track record includes two wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, a class win at Daytona 24 Hours, a host of participations in the 500 Miles of Indianapolis and, of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Briscoe made his Le Mans début in 2013 with Level 5 Motorsports (LMP2), sharing the #33 HPD ARX-03b-Honda with Christoph Bouchut and Scott Tucker (not classified). He discovered a new race, a different atmosphere and a formidable circuit. “I love this circuit. When I made my début here in 2013, I couldn’t believe how fast it was, how long the straights were. Sure, I’d used the simulator, but first time out I was looking for the curves on the Mulsanne Straight [laughs]."
In a way, it was back to base for the Australian who had already spent several seasons in Europe. "I raced in Europe in the early noughties [French Formula 3, European Formula 3 and Toyota F1 test driver] then I moved to the states in 2005 [IndyCar Series]. When I came to Le Mans, there were so many fans who remembered my F3 and F1 days. I signed tonnes of old photos. I miss Europe."
His second time at Le Mans was disappointing. His #63 Corvette C7.R r was damaged in the practice sessions and needed such extensive repair that it didn’t make the start of the race. "The accident was on the Wednesday and it was obvious the car wouldn’t be ready in time. It was hard. But I didn’t go straight back to the USA, I stayed to support the guys in the #64 who won their class. That was cool, but bitter-sweet. When you’re part of the race, you tend to hang out in the paddock and the pits. But as a non-runner, I got to watch the race as an ordinary spectator. I saw a different side to it and I realised just how big an event it is. Wandering around with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, I realised what a crowd the race draws. So, in that sense, it was a good experience. Jan and I even went to the Danish campsite. That was incredible!"
Briscoe joined Ford in 2016, the year the American team made its return to the Le Mans 24 Hours. He was rewarded with a podium place. "We had the best time. It was Ford’s big comeback. We had big ambitions. We knew the car was reliable and fast but at the same time, the programme was still in the teething stages. We wanted to last the distance and make no mistakes, especially as all the Ford bigwigs were there. It was a fantastic weekend, a superb race, with some great tussles. It was a close thing. I was knocked sideways by the amount of pressure. The slightest mistake on track or in the pit is lethal. Yes, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an endurance race, but you can’t hang about, you have to be full on all the time. If your stint is too slow, you’ll never make up that time. You have to manage traffic, drive clean and fast. We were third in the end, which was incredible, especially as our sister car won the class. We had a mechanical issue which made the car a little unstable. If it hadn’t been for that, the win was ours!"
Briscoe is familiar with another major contest, the Indianapolis 500 Miles, which he has raced ten times, taking pole position in 2012. "Le Mans and Indianapolis are quite similar in that they have a long tradition behind them. Both are also long races, with preparations and celebrations that last a whole week, so you can meet fans. If you win their hearts, it’ll be the best reward in your trophy cabinet. It’s so important to a driver." Australia may be on the opposite side of the world, Briscoe still has plenty of fans at Le Mans. "In Australia, racing fans regard the 24 Hours of Le Mans as one of the world’s greatest endurance races. Television audiences are huge. Thanks to Corvette and now Ford, there is more interest in the United States too."
After achieving P7 in LMGTE Pro at Le Mans last year, this January Briscoe delivered Ford a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona with loyal companions Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team USA has confirmed Briscoe is part of the crew of the #69 Ford GT for the next 24 Hours of Le Mans. So, could he manage to pull of a victory at Daytona and Le Mans in the same year? We’ll know the answer at 15:00 on 17 June.