Briscoe, Ganassi team up for Indy 500

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Ryan Briscoe will return to the Indianapolis 500 this year in a car fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

The pairing wasn’t completed until last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and was announced by the Ganassi organization Friday.

Briscoe will drive the No. 8 Honda with sponsorship from IT services and consulting company NTT Data.

“A guy like that shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines,” Ganassi said. “He sat on the pole last year at the speedway. He should be in the race.”

Briscoe won the pole for the 500 last season driving for Penske Racing and tied his career-best fifth-place finish. The Australian parted with Penske at the end of the season – AJ Allemendinger is scheduled to drive Briscoe’s pole-winning car in May at Indy – and doesn’t have any IndyCar rides currently lined up beyond the 500. The deal with Ganassi is currently only for the Indy 500.

Briscoe has seven career victories in the IndyCar Series, including a win last year at Sonoma. He drove for Ganassi in 2005, but was injured late that season in a crash at Chicago that ended his time with the team.

Briscoe has seven career starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and three top-10 finishes. He was fifth last year and in 2007.

Ganassi had room to field a fourth driver in the Indy 500, which was won last year by Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti. Graham Rahal’s departure from the organization left an available car, but Ganassi said he wasn’t looking for anyone until he found out recently that Briscoe didn’t have anything else lined up.

“We weren’t actively trying to do a fourth car,” Ganassi said. “It was a case of maybe if something happens, we’d consider doing it if it wouldn’t take away from the team. We don’t think this is going to take away from the team, and we are just going take these opportunities as they come and look at each situation individually.”

FORMULA ONE: In Shang-hai, Felipe Massa had the fastest time in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, significantly ahead of Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso again.

Massa earned praise from his Formula One team for an “incredible” performance in 1 minute, 35.340 seconds around the Shanghai International Circuit. He was 0.15 seconds ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, with Alonso third.

Massa’s strong showing surprised his team, with engineer Rob Smedley telling him over his pit-to-car radio that “the pace is not good, it’s incredible.”

Massa had been in a prolonged slump since a life-threatening accident at the 2009 Hungarian GP. When it appeared his Ferrari career was coming to an end, the Brazilian rediscovered his confidence in the latter part of the 2012 season and carried that into the new year.

He has qualified ahead of Ferrari No. 1 Alonso in four consecutive races. If he does it again today, he will be the first teammate to out-qualify the Spaniard five consecutive times.

“Today, I immediately had a good feeling in the car,” Massa said. “Even if, at the start, I was not completely happy with the performance of the medium-compound (tires) and we were not as quick as our rivals, the times were good all the same.

“When I fitted the softs, the car improved a lot and this meant I was able to set the fastest time of the day. It was impressive, like driving two completely different cars.”

Massa’s performance on soft tires contrasted most other drivers, who complained of rapid degradation after as little as one lap.

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg – who had his only career win here last year and led in China the two races before that – was fourth fastest and Red Bull’s Mark Webber was fifth.

Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel was 10th.

McLaren driver Jenson Button was sixth, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was seventh.

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