An interview with IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay
MODERATOR: We're joined today by Ryan Hunter‑Reay, driver of the No. 21 Vision Racing entry. Ryan ranks 10th in points as the IndyCar Series prepares to visit Texas Motor Speedway. He started the season with a second-place finish at St. Petersburg, and was 11th at Long Beach. And last week he moved up from 18th to 12th at Milwaukee.
Ryan, you joined Vision Racing right before the season started. Kind of a whirlwind of activity there in that final week before St. Petersburg. Do you feel like you've had the chance now to kind of settle in and make yourself at home there?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: It's been a rush up to the beginning. We're still really working hard to get it the way we want everything, so I don't think things have settled down yet. We still feel that rush and that time constraint that we're under.
Vision was a one‑car team five days before the first race, six days before the first race, and they had prepared to be a one‑car team over the offseason. So we're still kind of feeling that crunch a bit.
These guys have done an amazing job in a short amount of time, and we're still top 10 in points here after five races. Started out the way we did in St. Pete, that was a testament itself back to the team.
But on the bigger ovals, we definitely need to put in some work and get some things done in order to be as competitive as we want to be.
Q. You mentioned there, obviously, you got off to a really strong start in St. Pete and 11th at Long Beach. Despite some of the more recent races where it has been a little bit of a struggle, do you draw back on that fact that, hey, we did finish second. It is in the team to do and put some solid finishes out there?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, we're working. We're constantly working on it to see what we can make better. Milwaukee was a struggle. As you can see, both cars started near the back. I finished 12th. That was a hard fought day to finish 12th, I'll tell you that much.
But the series is so competitive. Teams have done such great jobs over the winter. KV, Newman/Haas, even Dreyer & Reinbold has gotten a lot quicker this year. Everybody's stepped up their game. And you can never stay stagnant in a very competitive racing series, and that's what's going on in IndyCar right now.
So we're working on some things. Hopefully we'll get them worked out pretty soon and start working towards the front.
We can definitely race well. We just want to improve our speed a little bit on these ovals. The road courses, I'm really looking forward to getting to Watkins Glen again. That's where I won last year. And getting up to Toronto, that's the place I had my first street course win in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. So we're looking forward to getting there and getting over to some of these road courses again.
But we're going to some great tracks. We're going to Iowa, Richmond. I really enjoyed racing there last year at these places. So we're just going to keep working at it. Right now we're in the thick of the season, so we can only do so much. We're doing the absolute best we can.
Q. You mentioned getting to the heart of the season. Obviously that starts this weekend at Texas. Last year running as high as third late in the race there before the contact with Marco. What will it take for you guys to be among the front runners again this weekend?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, it will take us rolling off the truck the first session being very happy with the race car. You can't roll off the truck and work on, OK, well, practice one wasn't that great. Practice two, you've got to go out and try to nail the setup, and then you're into qualifying already.
So you have to roll off with a good car, and you have to be able to go into qualifying knowing what you have. I think that was the difference before in Milwaukee. We went into qualifying after having changed quite a few things. It's just constantly a moving target that way.
Texas is a long race. It's pack racing, so we just need to qualify decently. We're not looking at qualifying on pole, that's not our agenda here. We just need to qualify decently so we can fight it out the full race.
Last year, I think first practice I showed up with Rahal to Texas, and I was 19th at practice. We went better every session. But in the race in the first couple laps we were like P‑5. And at the end of the race we were fighting for second place. So it's a place where you can definitely fight your way to the front.
Like I said, we need to roll off the truck with a good package. And if we don't, we'll just keep working on it, and make the car good for the race.
Q. It's the first night race of the season. How do you spend your time during the day when the on‑track activities start so late?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, the frustrating thing about night races is your schedule still doesn't change. You still get up at 8:30 or whatever it is. So you're just up that much longer. I definitely prefer the late afternoon races.
But Texas is an awesome show at night, and the fans love it. It looks great on TV when you get the sparks coming off the bottom of the cars. It's a great event.
You know, middle of the day you catch up on stuff you've been behind on, like emails from the month of May. I've got a lot of catch‑up work to do, that's for sure. I'll probably get some of that done.
Q. When you race under the lights, how different is it from the driver perspective? Are there things that you have to do or be aware of that are different than a race during the day?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Surprisingly not. Once you get used to it, it's pretty straightforward. Everything looks a little different. It's just different. It's not better, it's not worse, it's just different.
There's nothing that I do differently. It doesn't affect my vision or anything in any way like that. It makes the cars look a lot faster to the vantage point of the fans.
Q. I know you consider yourself a Floridian, but you were born in the Dallas area. Do you feel any special connection to Texas?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I was there for such a short amount of time. I do feel some connection, but I couldn't tell you how to get around downtown, so I guess that makes me really not a local.
I was there for a short amount of time. I consider myself more from Florida, South Florida.
Q. After Texas, we head to Iowa and Richmond. You touched on that briefly a little bit. The two shortest tracks on the schedule, but tracks that race very differently from each other. Just tell us a little about preparing for and competing at each of those tracks.
Q. I had a lot of fun in Iowa last year. We went into the race, everybody was thinking it's going to be some procession. Nobody's going to be able to race side-by-side. For some reason we got into the racing. It was a great show. Good racetrack. Short, very short, but it made for good racing.
Richmond, on the other hand, that's a tough little place on your own when you're just qualifying or whatever it may be on your own around that little bull ring in IndyCar.
You get all these cars out there. And these cars are so aero-dependent, it makes for tough passing, and that's a bit unfortunate on an oval when you get into a tough position where you're trying to pass, because we're trying to put on a good show.
Richmond's an interesting little place. It's definitely challenging from a driving perspective I just don't think we put on the best show there.
Q. You had hint at Watkins Glen. That's only four races away. Almost one month exactly from today where you got your first IndyCar Series win last year. How special will it be to go back there?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well that track's always been a special place for me, just because I grew up racing Skip Barber cars there, a beautiful, beautiful area. Spent a lot of time up there in summers when I was there with Skip Barber. And that track's got so much history. It's a former F1 track.
To get my first win, my first IndyCar (Series) win, there was a big deal, especially with the timing of that. My mom was just recently diagnosed with cancer at that time. And to be able to get a win under the circumstances and just how it all fell into place on July 4th weekend, it was great. Not to mention also that was our first weekend with IZOD, and they took that big billboard in Times Square. So it was a cool time period. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to Watkins Glen.
Q. How have you found the road course, as was evidenced by your performance at St. Pete, a lot of things are equalized. Would you put yourself up there for a chance on to pull off another win?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Absolutely. We've got some work we need to do. We know at Long Beach we came up a little bit short. We know what to do if we went back to Long Beach. That's what's important. If you leave a racetrack and you're not quite happy with your performance, five days later you say, 'Hey, if we had another day there we would fix this and we would fix that.' So we're going to apply that.
I certainly know what worked last year, so we're going to on do our best to match that. We qualified third there last year. Ran the race third and again we were second and moved up. So we had a good car that could move through, move through traffic.
And, qualifying ‑‑ that was our best qualifying of the year. So it was something we looked forward to duplicating.
Q. Talk about how you got started in racing? And what is your diet like on race day? Special foods that you kind of eat? Is it a staple for you every day on race day?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, first, to answer the first question. I got started in racing by just racing karts, go‑karts. That's how most of us do. Either junior sprint karts or something like that or racing karts.
I got started racing karts, my dad bought me a go-kart in the neighborhood. And getting into using it too often, too dangerously on public streets. So I ended up getting it on to a racetrack, and he fortunately made that jump for me. Getting me from the neighborhood streets to the racetrack. And it took off from there. It was a lot of work. Lot of hard work over the years, and it still is today.
For the diet, I just like to stick to a bit of carbs and protein, and nothing that's going to upset my stomach during the race or in the race car. You can never get anything where you have a lot of spices in it or nothing complicated.
Usually it just ends up being some pasta and chicken before the race. A little bit of red sauce or something like that. You want to keep it as simple as possible while getting the nutrients you need to work at your optimum through a two‑hour, two‑and‑a‑half‑hour race.
MODERATOR: Great, Ryan, thanks for joining us. We appreciate that, and good luck this weekend as well.
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