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IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Justin Wilson
April 5, 2009


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our second- and third-place finishers. Ryan Hunter-Reay, second place, best-ever finish for Vision Racing; and then we have Justin Wilson with a third-place finish, best-ever finish for Dale Coyne in the IndyCar Series. Justin, why don't we start with you and talk about your day out there.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it was a long one. It was nice to get the jump into Turn 1. I'm not sure what happened with Graham, but I saw him hit the brakes about the four marker, and I was pretty committed to going to the three, so I went in deep, and I wasn't sure if he was still there. I lost sight of him, so I left one lane on the inside, hoping that he wouldn't slide wide, but as I came out of the corner, I looked in my mirror and Dario was there, so I am still not sure what happened behind.
From that point on we were just pushing hard, trying to save fuel and do the best we could, but unfortunately that yellow came out right at the wrong point for myself and put me back in the pack and I had to work my way back through to have a chance of winning the race.
Just very pleased that the whole Dale Coyne Racing team has done a great job, and I've just got to be very thankful for them to choose me to drive their car and get a strong first weekend in.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, just over a week ago we didn't know where you were going to be, and now here you are, second place finish, best-ever finish for Vision Racing. Talk about your day out there.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, I haven't said it since I got out of the car, but this is because everybody worked so hard to make this thing happen. A lot of people came together to make this work, and yeah, it was a nail-biter for sure. But in the end, the George family, everybody at IZOD, Mike Kelly at IZOD, Colin Dyne at William Rast, and really, the IndyCar, I have to thank them a lot for the marketing, commercial side of it.
We've been working real hard on the business side of making this thing work out, and we threw it together in seven days. I met the team on Sunday, didn't sit in the car until Friday here this weekend. I mean, Friday afternoon we were still cutting away at the seat and everything. It's just unreal. It really speaks volumes to the caliber of talent at Vision Racing and what this team is capable of. We've only been together for seven days; it's awesome.
But this is what racing is about. This is why people love it, and this is why IndyCar is so great, because you can put something together in that amount of time, and if you get the right people together, you can challenge for a race win against teams that are spending $15 million a year, $20 million a year. It's a very neat thing, a very cool series that way.
But the day was a long day. It was very physical, hot, hard to get into a rhythm, just because of how all the yellows kept coming. I think that was one of the hardest off-line races. When I say that, I mean the marbles were some of the worst I think I've ever had. I think everybody in the race could say that they probably almost wrecked their car completely a couple times just because on those restarts, you had to have some talent to hang it out. I mean, everybody, the best of us, were just struggling to keep the thing off the walls.
That's what we wanted to do is come out today, not make any mistakes and push hard, but I was definitely wringing the car's neck there, and so was Justin. He was flying for most of the race there.
We ended up on reds there at the end, the red Firestone tires. The Firestones were awesome, very consistent all day. But that made for some great racing, the difference in the tires.

Q. Is your emotion more disappointment in not winning or elation in getting a podium with Dale Coyne Racing, who last week none of us thought that would have happened?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's a mixture of both, obviously. Having led the most laps all race and been so strong and been so fast, I'm disappointed not to get the win. But under the circumstances I'm very pleased with third result for Dale Coyne Racing. I think we've been working hard all weekend, and something Ryan touched on, it's all about the people. We've got some good people and pulled a team together, and that's what allows you to compete, and that's the great thing about this series.

Q. I've got two questions that I'd like both of you to answer if you could. On street course races in this series, is this an example of how a very good driver can actually make up a big difference with the car?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we're going to say yes.

Q. But explain why, more so than the 1.5s you really can't.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You can carry the car more on a street course. On an oval you're driving -- it does take a lot of skill to drive on an oval, don't get me wrong. But you can carry the car, you can make up for some deficiencies in the car on a street circuit because you've really got to hustle the car. An oval is more of a finesse game, and when you have the right car on an oval that makes all the difference in the world.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, like Ryan was saying, you're working with the pedals and you have a chance to try and curb up some of the deficiencies that may be happening with some of the handling of the car. On the speedways obviously you need a good team and good drivers and that continuity to keep developing the car to make it to your suiting. It's not a luxury we tend to have, but there's very few guys in that position. So when you come to these types of tracks, you can sit in the car Friday and finish second on Sunday.

Q. And also to spin forward in two weeks, the next race is also on a street course, so the two of you have got to feel pretty encouraged about your chances at Long Beach. If you could both address that.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we want to go out there and capitalize again and start the season off doing what we know best and try and get some momentum behind us, and maybe we can build our program and adapt -- add to it, maybe sponsorship that allows us to develop the car more and be able to compete more in those high-speed one-and-a-half-mile ovals, which you need the development on.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I just can't wait to get back to Long Beach. That's one of my favorite races. It's such a cool event. It's just great to be going back there again, and it's the second race, we're going in there with a bit of momentum at a track that I know and I love racing at. Yeah, it's a great start to the season. I like that. Some of the oval-meisters might not like the start to the season. But this thing has a huge rhythm to it where you start off on a road course, then you go to some ovals, it's oval thick in the middle of the season, then you go to some street circuits and road circuits, and again, the beauty of IndyCar is the variance.
JUSTIN WILSON: The key part to starting on the street circuits is the atmosphere. It's a great atmosphere today, and the fans are out there and they can get so close, you feel that vibe and excitement.

Q. Ryan, you were on the reds at the end. Was there no way of catching Ryan Briscoe?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, there was for sure. I was having great restarts, and Justin on the last one had a great restart, too. It was stressful as hell. But it came down to that last restart, and I had a good run on Ryan, and I had to be smart there, right? Ryan is charging hard, I'm charging hard, Justin is charging hard behind us, and you keep seeing over and over again after these yellows, you keep seeing somebody ends up in the tire barrier doing something stupid. So I wanted to be the smart one.
I gave him a run down there and try and make him lock a right front or something like that, and he did a good job, got in there. The problem was if you got off line, I'd be toast to Justin behind me. Justin would have got me. So I had to think a little bit ahead of it. I think that was the right call on my part. I could have definitely gone there and banged wheels with him, but was that the right thing to do? I don't think so in that situation.

Q. Considering how late your deals came together, what were your realistic expectations coming in, and does it almost relieve pressure knowing that you guys are coming in and it's late and just let it rip?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I didn't know what to expect. My deal came together a little bit later than Justin's, but it was funny on that last caution, I'm looking at the top three -- it was the second-to-the-last caution, I'm looking at the top three, this is funny, both Justin and I, both race winners from last year are in the top three, and we were unemployed, both of us unemployed, a month ago, month and a half ago, whatever it was.
My deal came together later. I was unemployed a week ago. But it's just awesome. This is what racing is about, and this is definitely why people love it, things like this. You don't always want to see the Penske cars and the Ganassi cars in the top four, you want to see things like this.

Q. I know both of you guys are former winners and so is Ryan Briscoe, but I think this is maybe kind of a unique podium for the casual fan who might not know Ryan Hunter-Reay or Justin Wilson or Ryan Briscoe. Is that gratifying when all three of you guys are up there on a day when the guys that the league are pushing hard on the marketing side, you guys outshined all of them and do you think we'll see more of this throughout the season?
JUSTIN WILSON: From my point of view hopefully we'll see more of this. We're both desperate to prove that we're a valuable asset and need to be here, so that's what we're trying to do on and off the track is do the best job we can and race hard, and hopefully we put on a good show today and the fans appreciate that and we can build from there.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: As a driver and a team outside of Penske and Ganassi, you've just got to go out fighting every day and punch above your weight and just do everything you can to make a difference in the race car on the racetrack. Hopefully -- I definitely believe we can have a lot more of that this year.

Q. For both you guys, talk a little bit about the option on the tires today. There was a lot of talk about it going in. Obviously that was going to change strategies. What did it actually mean today, and did you guys know at different times what the other guys around you were on? Was it easy to tell?
JUSTIN WILSON: You could see the guy ahead of you or behind you, but after that it's sometimes not so easy to tell a guy four places back what tires he's running on and how fast he's going. You just concentrate on doing the best job you can. Obviously having the option tire really spiced things up and adds a lot of strength to our qualifying and also the race. We opted to start on the option tire, and they actually worked really great. I was quite pleased and pleasantly surprised when I saw Dario's prime tire looked like it was going off towards the end. It was all part of the strategy, and we were cautious; we weren't sure in that final stint whether to go with a second set of options or another set of primes.
I think both tires that Firestone have brought here worked really well, so you couldn't make a decision too wrong, but it just keeps you on your toes and keeps you trying to second-guess what everyone else is doing.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I think the tires worked out to my benefit today for sure. Firestone did a great job spicing up the racing that way. The jury was kind of out on whether the reds were better. Maybe they fell off more over a long stint. But I was happy I had them on at the end. Definitely they come in faster, that's one thing for sure. I think they come in faster, so I was able to get some good restarts on them.
I think you might kind of get through them a little bit quicker, too, and the rears become too hot, at least that was the case on my car. I think it'll make for some interesting racing this year, that's for sure.

Q. Back to the start, from your very limited perspective, was that whole melee caused by Graham braking too soon?
JUSTIN WILSON: I have no idea. I couldn't comment. I went into Turn 1, I know he was concerned about the dirt on the inside, and he brakes pretty close to where we brake -- yeah, he probably brakes at the same point you would do on a normal lap, maybe 10, 15 miles an hour slower, but on cold tires I thought that was respectable. But I just decided to stay over there pretty deep and hope that I cleared him because I didn't like the idea of being off line through the next couple of corners waiting to tuck in behind whoever was going to be on the inside on the racing line.
I knew that was my best chance of not losing ground was trying to attack. I wouldn't say it's necessarily Graham's fault, but I haven't seen any of the replays.

Q. Justin, you came out, I think your last pit stop you changed tires and you came zooming out and it didn't seem to bother you. Obviously your tires weren't up to heat yet but you didn't go backwards. You were right there and held on. How did that happen, number one? And number two, there was a lot of talk about marbles, if you went off line just a foot you ran into them. Do you think the red tire had anything to do with that?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, as I came out of the pits, I saw how close it was going to be, and my tires were cold, it wasn't an option. The only tricky part was braking into Turn 4. As I hit the brakes, the car bottomed out and it started to turn in right from the point I hit the brake pedal. I was just glad I didn't manage to lock a wheel and stick it in the wall.
But after that, yeah, I knew if I could get through the next couple of corners I'd be able to hold onto it, and the tires just came up to temperature and we were able to hang there. I was pleased with that. Unfortunately my end lap wasn't quite as clean. I caught a little bit of traffic the previous lap and the end lap I locked the rears and again slid wide. So that was my own little redemption to myself to make up for the end lap not being as good as I would normally like.
It was difficult conditions. I don't think that the option tire really had an effect on how many marbles -- I'm not the one to say, but I think there was marbles last year. This year it's worse. Is that the tire's fault? I think it's just the circumstances. It's just something you have to deal with. We were picking up the dirt on the tires, and that's what made the restarts really tricky. You were just sliding around for about two laps until you could get them cleaned off.

Q. For both of you, I'd like to know if you had a chance to talk to your car owners when you finished the race and what each of them had to say. And then regarding the last stint to the checkered flag, there were several yellows, especially at the end, that interrupted maybe your opportunity to try and pass the driver in front of you. Both of you were on red tires. Would it be better to do a restart to try and pass or just work through the race? And I guess if Ryan didn't make a mistake, Ryan Briscoe, then maybe you don't have an opportunity to pass.
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, when I saw Dale it was only very brief, and obviously he was extremely happy. It was a great day, it's been a great weekend, and hopefully we can get a few more like this.
As far as the restarts, it's just difficult, and after -- I lost track of how many there were, but there was one restart where Ryan nearly passed Ryan, and he went down the inside and I was hoping he was going to get stuck in and have a go and maybe give me a chance, but that didn't happen. From that point on I was thinking, this is so difficult, we're sliding around so much, I hope the checkered flag comes out now so I'm not the next guy to put it in the wall.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, everybody at Vision was ecstatic obviously. They deserve it for sure. It was a great day, definitely. And the IZOD representative to IndyCar, Michael Kelly, it's his birthday, so I was trying to get him a big birthday present there, so drinks on him.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate your time. We'll see you in Long Beach.

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