Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
July 11, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Our guest today is the driver of the No. 28 team DHL Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet and current IZOD IndyCar Series points leader, Ryan Hunter‑Reay. Ryan, thank you for taking the time to join us today.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: It's great to be on. Thank you for having me.
THE MODERATOR: As I mentioned, Ryan leads the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings by 34 points over Will Power following his third consecutive win at the Honda Indy Toronto last weekend. Ryan previously won the races at Milwaukee and Iowa, and can become the first driver to win four IndyCar races since 2006 when Sébastien Bourdais won four Champ races to start the Champ Car season.
Ryan, with the weekend off before next weekend's race, is it a little disappointing to not be in a car this weekend especially as well as you've been running?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, with the momentum we've had, certainly it is. We'd rather be at the racetrack keeping it going. But we had a weekend off between Iowa and Toronto and we kept it going. Hopefully that will be the case for Edmonton.
THE MODERATOR: Heading into these final five races of 2012, did you expect that you'd be the points leader at this point in the season? Do you change your mindset heading into the final five races with the point lead?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, I don't know if I would say I expected to be the points leader. I certainly expected to be contending for the championship. You know, it's just nice to see that this team is reaching its potential because the potential has been there. I feel lucky to be working with these guys. It's a great group, and we have even better performances in us in the future.
So it's been a lot of fun, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves, like I've been saying. It's lap by lap, and just concentrate on being solid.
Q. Can you talk about the team that you've been working with? I know at Indianapolis you had a change with Kyle Moyer going over to Marco's car and Michael Andretti coming over to your car. Talk about how well the team's worked together and gelled from your pit crew to you and the car?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: It's really working great. The environment and the team is the best it's been. It's cohesive, the chemistry is there. I think it really lends itself to the fact that I've found a home there. I've been there for three years now, and that makes a big difference.
I've had the opportunity to drive for many different teams. What is nice about that is that you really get to hone your skills in developing relationships with people and relationships that actually benefit on the racetrack.
Now that I've been with the team for three years, we're like one big family. We know what one another wants. We support each other. Ray and I, Ray Gosselin and I, my engineer, just the communication is easy. It happens. He knows what I want. I know what he wants. With Michael in the stands, you've got a legend there that is calling the race and talking in my ear, couldn't get much better for me.
Q. Last weekend marked the return of a push to pass to the IZOD IndyCar Series. What are your thoughts on the system after one race, and what do you expect from it heading to Edmonton given those two long straights heading into the prime passing zones?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, I think push to pass is cool. I don't know. I didn't use much of it at Toronto. I think these cars have been doing an excellent job on their own. I don't think they need any help to spice up the racing. It's been excellent this year. It's been a blast to be a part of it. When you watch the races again on TV, it's pretty impressive to see that we're putting on that kind of show.
I don't know. I'm not sold on the push to pass. But if we're going to have to, it's another variable in the race. Hopefully, we'll use more of it in Edmonton because we didn't use very much of it in Toronto.
Q. Earlier this year it was announced that you'd have some sports car plans kind of dove tailing later in the year with the SRT Viper program. Since you are now firmly in the thick of the IndyCar championship chase, has there been any discussion on those plans being adjusted or altered to a singular focus?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: The Petit Le Mans is where I'd be driving the car in Atlanta, and it's after the season. Yeah, it's after the season, so I'm just going to keep focused on IndyCar during the season now, and there is really nothing else coming up that I know of.
Q. There are only five races left in the season, and only one oval. Traditionally Americans like ovals, but you seem to like the road courses. Can you talk a little bit about why that is and how it came to be?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I really like the mix up. That's what IndyCar has always been for me even when I was a fan of the series before I even started racing go‑karts. I just loved the fact that every weekend you see the cars on a different type of track, and it's constantly changed up.
To do well in the series and in this championship, you've got to kind of master it all. We have some great racetracks coming up with two road courses, two street circuits and an oval. I love them all. I really do. When you have a good car on an oval, that is some of the most fun you can have, really, in a race car. I've found some success on road and street circuits as well.
I don't know what my stronger suit is, really. It's kind of tough to pin that one down.
Q. Did you do something in particular to learn road racing or street racing?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I think it just came from carting. Like when I started racing go‑karts, everything was road courses. I never did any oval racing in go‑karts and I never did any oval racing in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge series either. It was all road courses. My first oval was in the Barber Dodge Road series, and I believe that was the Chicago track. The old one they had. That was a completely new experience, and I loved it from the first lap. It was so cool.
It can't get much different. You go from a road course to an oval, everything is different. The way the car stood up, the mentality, the way you drive it, your approach, everything. That's what I love about it, the difference.
Q. They were saying yesterday that they're going to make the turns in Baltimore. They're going to tweak them to make them scary or scarier for you guys and more competitive?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Scary, wow.
Q. They said it would take your breath away kind of tweaks. So could you talk about was last year's street course here easy, and what do you think about it getting harder?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: No, it wasn't easy at all. What a beautiful track though. Right on the water there next to Camden Yard, it's so cool. We love going to Baltimore. The first race was well received. The fan turnout was awesome. The support was great. We're looking forward to getting back. Now that it's an Andretti event, I think Michael and the Andretti Sports Marketing Team do an excellent job. When they do something, they do it right, and Baltimore has a great event coming.
I think I may be heading up there soon to announce a few things about the race. That will be nice. I haven't heard about the new developments on the turns though. I do know that that race last year was probably one of the most physical street races I've ever been a part of. It was pretty hot, but there was a lot of grip in the track. It was just everybody talked about how physical it was.
We're looking to go back and have a great race there. Hopefully Baltimore will be a fixture on the schedule for a long time to come.
Q. Taking Texas and Indy out of the equation, because they were mechanical failures, you've been highly consistent this season. Is there any circumstances that you believe has led to that?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I think that the new car has leveled off the playing field a little bit and allowed Andretti Autosport to get back where it belongs up in the front. I think that combined with the fact that I've been working with the same group of guys and the same team for three years, there are a hundred variables that go into one IndyCar race let alone three of them in a row. That's pretty special.
I don't know that I could really point one thing out. It's a number of factors that have brought us to where we are right now. We're certainly enjoying ourselves. We have a long way to go. Five races in the championship feels like an eternity right now.
We're just focused on racing, and on being solid. Being solid week‑in, and week‑out, and putting ourselves in a position to win races.
Q. Do you think that the new car suits your personal style better?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Not necessarily. I thought I was getting along with the other car pretty well too. And the second half of the season that we had last year, if we had that again last year, we could win this championship, for sure. We need to put it together. We had a great second half of the season last year.
So I don't know. We were knocking on a few wins there at the end of the year last year, and same thing at the beginning of this year. So I certainly enjoyed the new car. I think the racing has been excellent with it. But I don't think there is anything about it that really sticks out to my driving style.
Q. If there was anything about this season that you could change so far, what would you change?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: We started on the front row at Indy. If we could have finished that race without a mechanical failure, that would be it. Indy's the big one. It's been fire and ice there for me. I would have liked to have gotten a good result. We could have been a Top 4 car or Top 3 car. I don't think we could have beaten the Ganassis and the Hondas, but we certainly had a good race car. It would have been nice to see it out.
Q. My last question, we're sitting here two‑thirds of the way through the season, one‑third left. As we said earlier, you're in the points lead for the points championship. What is your key to the last part of the season?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: The singular focus is qualify and run in the top six, that's it. If we do that, we're most likely going to stay out of trouble and we'll be contending for the win. That's the big thing.
We have to be solid. We have to be in the top six. We don't need to light the world on fire. We need to go out and gun it, hoping for more wins. That's what we want to do. We're going to win races.
If not, our bad days need to be fifth or sixth place, and our good days need to be wins. That's where we're at.
Q. You mentioned that also you've had success in the past, but a hat trick at this level is certainly special. Does that give a different emotion? Internally with the recent success, does the winning change you?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: What's really shocked me is after the wins, I haven't felt different about anything. I haven't felt a big sense of relief or I don't know. I feel hungrier now than I ever have. I've been in a position where I didn't have a ride for a full year in 2006, so I've certainly felt the lows. Now that we're on this high, it makes me really want to take advantage of this situation and make the most of it. There is no sense of complacency, nothing like that. Oh, okay, we did it. I felt like we're not there yet.
Q. Do you notice any changes in your team? Obviously the wins have to really resonate through your whole team.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: For sure. It helps the atmosphere on the team, but right now the team's just clicking. There is a really good chemistry going on. It's fun to be driving at Andretti Autosport right now. That is the case for all the drivers, the crew and everybody. It's an entire team effort. It's three car teams under one roof, and it's united now. So it's nice.
Q. For many years one of the criticisms of the series was there weren't enough American drivers winning races and competing for the championship. Do you feel like you're carrying the flag here against the Will Powers, Dario Franchittis of the world or is that not an issue with you?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: It's not something that I focus on. I'm definitely honored to be carrying the American flag at the front right now, and every time I get on the podium, I raise that thing up there because I'm proud of it.
I think what hits home for me is when I was a kid, before I started racing go‑karts, my dad took me to a couple IndyCar races in Miami, and I watched the series as a fan of the sport, as a fan of the series. I was really focused on the American drivers. I don't know why that is. I was just a kid. So I didn't have any agenda or anything like that.
I just really, really liked to watch the American drivers. I liked to watch Michael, Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears, the big American guys, Al Unser Jr., the big names. I loved watching those guys. Even as recently as in '96 when he had such a great year.
I feel like now that I'm in IndyCar and doing well, hopefully there is some kid sitting there doing the same thing, so that's kind of cool.
Q. Just a few days ago I was talking to an old friend of mine John Ward who is one of America's most successful race car designers, worked for All American racers for many years and designed successful IndyCars and GTP cars. Very knowledgeable guy involved with the Delta wing these days. We were talking about Formula 1. John remarked about the job that Fernando Alonso is doing this year, and how he made the point, and John knows as much about engineers and teams. But he made the point that it takes a driver to lead the team. We've certainly seen that with Alonso this year in Formula 1, pulling Ferrari to the front. But it does take a driver to lead the team. Seems like you've emerged as the team leader there at Andretti Autosport. From your point of view, what is that all about? What does that take? Performance in the car, how do you provide leadership for the team?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I think the driver is definitely the quarterback of it, of the team. I think that's pretty much a given. At Andretti Autosport though, it really is three‑car teams working together. And the team work going on right now is so beneficial. It's working so well. I think I attribute the factor that we've all worked with the same guys, and we've had a chance to really start clicking. And I've been saying, you've never seen a group full of rookies win an NFL championship or baseball or basketball. It's always that core group of veterans that have been together for a while that make it happen, that pull the thing along.
Certainly everybody is a part of it. Everybody on the team is, even on the 27, 26 cars, the whole team. The whole team, putting my car together in the off weekends, and everybody pulling their weight. It's just nice. My engineer, I'm really working well with Ray, and Michael's calling the races. I think the team leader thing though, I wouldn't want to put that on my self, because I feel like there are too many people involved doing a great job for me to be taking the flag and waving it.
Q. It's noted that Michael Andretti paid you quite a compliment by saying he just really doesn't feel that you have a weakness on any style of racetrack. How do you handle a compliment like that? What is your response to that?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Coming from Michael, it's huge. I really appreciate the compliment, but hopefully we don't have a weakness. We'll see. But in sports, in racing in general, you're going to have off weekends. It's going to happen. But we can't get down too much after it does happen, especially after the ride we've been on lately. But two road circuits, two street circuits and an oval, we've just won on a street circuit, and we've got some strong events coming up.
If we finish the season the way we did last year in 2011, we could win the championship. But we have to put it together. But it's a huge compliment from Michael coming from a legend that he is. That's pretty special.
Q. I would like to hear you discuss how well you and Marco and James work together? Do you share a lot of information? Do you find that similar set‑ups work for each other, how does that work for all of you?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, I think it boils down to we're all good friends. We don't let egos stand in the way. There is nothing standing in the way communication‑wise. It's all free flowing. When something benefits me or if we're sharing it with them and vice versa, and that is the way a three‑car team is supposed to work. That's why you have three cars. That's why you have three‑times the amount of information going around as you would on a 1‑car team. So I think it's working as it is supposed to. It's working the plan.
Certainly James has been a great addition to the team, but Marco and I have had a good relationship since I came to the team. Our communication is right there. We do share set‑ups. Each driver likes their own thing in the car. Especially at street circuits, each driver likes something different, a little bit different. James and I are a little closer set‑up on street circuits, but on the ovals, we all can intermatch, intertwine, set‑ups no problem. I can jump in Marco's car, he could jump in mine, and we've got the same thing.
Q. I'd like to share a quick Ryan Hunter‑Reay story. It was the first year I did the open test at Barber, and I was walking down the paddock area and you were on your pit box. You passed me, and there was a man and a woman with a child in a stroller that an had Andretti hat on, and the kid tossed the hat off in front of you on the pit box. And I have a picture of you stopping, picking the hat up and giving it back to the kid. I saw you sign an autograph with it, and take some pictures and stuff. I just thought that was a really neat moment, and I wanted to share that with you.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I appreciate it. The fans are what it's all about. That's where I started. I was a fan of the series and still am. But I was that kid at one point, so that's why I feel that way.
Q. I remember talking to you bicycling on the St. Pete track back at beginning of the season. Do you get a chance to keep up with your cycling and other training when the season gets active like it is now?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, it's tough. But I do keep up with it for sure. Yesterday I went for a run at 2:00 in the Florida heat. It was like running through a swamp. It's good preparation though.
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