Q&A: Ford GT Racing Driver Ryan Briscoe Talks Karting
Ryan Briscoe is an Australian/American (he just became an American citizen this year) racing driver with extensive history in both open wheel and sports car racing. He won Australian, North American and Italian go-karting championships in a five-year span, was a test driver for Toyota’s Formula One team from 2002-2004, and scored 8 wins and 28 podiums during his IndyCar career.
In sports cars, Ryan was runner-up in the 2007 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) LMP2 class, has won his class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2013, two class wins at Petit Le Mans (2008, 2013), and has netted a class win at the 2008 24 Hours of Daytona.
He currently drives for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in their No. 67 Ford GT in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. He currently sits as co-leader of the GTLM driver championship standings with his teammate, Richard Westbrook.
We had a chance to catch up with Ryan prior to the GP of Long Beach, where he would go on to a second-place finish in his class.
K1 Speed: When was the first time you drove a go-kart? Do you remember how old you were, and was that your introduction to racing?
Ryan Briscoe: Very first time was probably about two years before I started racing. So, I think I must’ve been nine or ten. I remember it was just one day in a go-kart, and I had my motocross helmet on. Honestly, I don’t remember much about it, I just remember the pictures from it. But when I was eleven then my dad pooled all the equipment and we started racing, and never looked back. I mean, it just became my passion.
You know, I have so many great memories from karting. It’s probably some of the best racing, if not the best racing that I’ve had in my entire career. It’s just so fast, and close, and exciting – a lot of great memories from all my karting years in Australia and also in Europe.
K1S: Do you remember your first competitive kart race and how you did? Was it a challenge or did it kind of come naturally?
RB: Yeah, umm.. I think I came fifth or sixth. I don’t really remember the details, but it was just really fun to do the race, and it was in a Junior J Light, and it was in Lithgow (Lithgow City Raceway) – a track outside of Sydney, and I got a trophy. And the biggest thing I remember is whenever you got a trophy after the go-kart race, you had to go up, get awarded the trophy, and then make a speech (laughs). So that was probably my biggest nerves was having to make a speech, but yeah, so many good friends from the karting days.
K1S: What have been some of the biggest takeaways that you’ve been able to get from karting that you’ve been able to translate to car racing?
RB: I think as I moved up through the ranks, and got to Europe and racing in Formula A and Formula Super A, at that level it was extremely professional. You start working on the feedback, track maps, engine feedback, tuning carburetors, you know all that sort of stuff that really, I think, helps just teach you as a driver all the stuff you need to learn and work with as you go into car racing in one form or another.
I spent most of my career in Europe with CRG which was amazing. And I remember when I moved to Tony Kart for my last year, I just think that sort of took it to another level of professionalism. And Tony Kart were actually the ones that introduced me to Toyota who ended up moving me from karts into race cars. (Tony Kart) also ran me in shifter karts, the 125(cc)s, you know I just had a great experience with them. Short lived, only one season, but that got me ready really to move into car racing, and you know, Mr. Robazzi (Roberto Robazzi, President of Tony Kart) definitely looked after me.
K1S: Are you able to do any karting these days? Do you continue as a means to stay sharp?
RB: I haven’t since I had kids. (laughs) Before I had kids I actually lived in Mooresville, North Carolina, and they built a track out there – which was awesome because they modeled it after Parma (Kartodromo Parma – a historic and legendary Italian kart track) which was one of my favorite tracks in Italy, which got torn down for residential building. So they built this track in North Carolina and so I ended up getting a kart and keeping it. I had two karts. I had one sent from Europe, like a KZ1..was it KZ? It was the direct-drive, it wasn’t a shifter. And then I had a TAG as well. So, I’d play around with those out at the kart track and yeah, loved it and sort of brought it back. I hadn’t driven karts for maybe 15 years or so, so I did that for about three years and then sold them and dealt with family life (laughs).
K1S: Well speaking of families and kids.. Say a kid goes into K1 Speed and starts falling in love with the sport and thinks about eyeing it as a career, what would you recommend to them?
RB: Be real nice to your parents (laughs). Do all your chores, do your homework, make your bed in the morning, cos it’s going to come down to your parents making it happen for you.
It’s a great sport. For me, my best memories from when I first started racing go-karts was that it was a family sport. And we’d go every weekend with mum and dad, myself, my sister and we’d pack up the van and go racing, and we’d stay at the racetrack for the weekend, and it was just great family weekends. And we didn’t take it too seriously, it was all about having fun. My dad never put any pressure on me to go out and win or anything. It was just go out and have fun and enjoy it. And hey, if you’re good enough, you’re gonna win races.
Especially when you’re young, obviously you want to learn from older, more experienced guys that you’re racing with. But try to just keep it fun and enjoy it, that’s the most important thing.
K1S: Now, if you don’t mind – just some fun questions. What’s your favorite track of all time that you’ve raced at?
RB: Of all time? Bathurst (Mount Panorama Circuit).
K1S: Nice. If you could drive any racecar from the past, which one would you choose?
RB: Umm..drive any car from the past… uh, I don’t know. I mean I just think back to the cars that I’ve driven.
K1S: Ok, well let’s say then the favorite car that you’ve raced?
RB: Formula One, from the early 2000s: high-revving V-10s, loads of downforce. I mean, that was just unreal.
K1S: What kind of daily driver do you have right now?
RB: I’ve got a Ford Raptor, company vehicle. I just absolutely love it.
K1S: And what’s your crown jewel of your garage, or is that your crown jewel?
RB: Just quietly… I’ve got a 911 GT3. So… driving the competition..
K1S: Any childhood racing idols you had growing up that you looked up to and really inspired you?
RB: Yeah, I had a couple. The first was Garry Rush – you wouldn’t know him. He was a Sprintcar driver (one of Australia’s most successful Sprintcar drivers in fact – he won 10 championships). So, I used to go over to the dirt tracks every weekend, and he was my idol. Along with Steve Kinser, who you might know. He was a big time American Sprintcar driver, dirt track (has won 20 World of Outlaw championships). And then in open-wheel: Alex Zanardi and honestly, Dario Franchitti. And Michael Schumacher – keep fighting.