Q and A with Michael Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay
Earlier today, Andretti Autosport team owner Michael Andretti and 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay participated in an INDYCAR Conference Call to discuss a variety of topics heading into the 2013 season.
Q: Ryan, yesterday was your first day back in the car. Does it seem like the season's just around the corner now?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Absolutely. I mean, it's always just around the corner. That's how we've been thinking since our last race at Fontana. We've really been focused on 2013. There's really never any sense of sitting still at Andretti Autosport. We're always really planning for the future and making sure that we're moving forward at all costs.
So we knew that we had that one night after Fontana, where we had some fun with the team and everything, and we were on to 2013, focused on the future. So looking forward to getting back in the car again even though this is the first time we did it in 2013. I feel like the testing is a little bit too thin this year, really – for anybody. I think we're going to have a total of like three chances in the car before St. Pete, which is a bit drastic; but everybody's in the same boat.
Q: Obviously this year your car will have No. 1 to honor your championship. I know race drivers can be superstitious and some have tended to shy away carrying No. 1 after a championship season. Do you feel any pressure carrying that as a target kind of this year?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: We have a target either way. And the biggest target comes from within our own organization. We put the most pressure on ourselves. Really don't care what anybody else thinks. We want to go out there and win and deliver for our team and our partners and sponsors. That's what really matters most.
And I certainly put a lot of pressure on myself as well. So we've got a lot to do. We've got to redouble our efforts to even have a shot at defending our championship. But when it comes to the number one, it's all about the history of that number and it's been an IndyCar tradition for years. I remember as a kid as an IndyCar fan, watching the championship take the No. 1. So it brought it full circle.
Certainly our team and sponsors deserve that. DHL, Sun Drop, Circle K and certainly Chevrolet deserve to run that No. 1 in 2013.
Q: Guys, just look down the schedule a little bit. Toronto is the one anomaly on the schedule that's got a doubleheader. And the last time I talked to James Hinchcliffe he was still not exactly sure how he'll get his head around this thing. Are we simply talking too far down the schedule for you to even contemplate how the heck you're going to attack two races on one weekend?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Definitely going to be a challenge, no question about it. I'm not sure I'm in favor of the format. If I'm just going to talk strictly as an owner, there's a huge expense to doing that, where they thought they'd actually be saving you money but in a lot of ways it's going to cost us a lot of money. From that standpoint I don't think it was doing what they were hoping it would do.
But then, I think it's going to be really, really difficult on the drivers. I believe that if some of these guys that make these decisions don't understand what it's like to be in a racecar and how spent you are after a race – there's times where if I had to race on Monday after a race on Sunday, you'd be really tough to do it. And now they're asking these guys to go out and try to do that. And a place like Toronto, which is very physical – if it's hot, you're going to have guys falling out of the seats in the second race.
So it's putting a big, big demand on the drivers, in my opinion, and the teams in a lot of ways, the guys that go over the wall and stuff. So I can't say I'm a huge fan of it. Q: Let me ask you about Hinch. You're expecting a breakout season for him, he started out strong and things started to fall away. I think you're thinking as he comes back now with the team intact that he's probably going to have a breakout year, at least you'd like to think that way, right?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think so. He's got all the ingredients to be a champion one day, and I think it's all about getting that first win, and I think this is going to be the year for it and I think once he tastes that victory, he's going to follow it up with a few more after that.
Q: Ryan, were you able to totally get away from the racing thing in the offseason, forget the cell phone, forget the tweeting, just try and enjoy the family in the offseason? Some drivers aren't actually able to do that, were you?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Certainly very busy. And I feel very fortunate that I've been as busy as I am. I was never able to really unplug completely. But I had my time at home enjoying living in South Florida a couple of weeks here and there. And that's really all I need. I love racing, and anytime I'm sitting there at home with a remote control in my hands all I'm thinking about is getting back in the car, going out and taking my go‑karts out or whatever it is. I've always got to be doing something.
Q: Michael, you spoke just a moment ago about Hinch but there's more you can get out of Marco [Andretti] this year. What have you guys done as a team toward making that happen?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually, we've been doing a lot with Marco. I think all the drivers. We did some unique things, and I think I'm hoping that Marco learns some things that he was doing wrong and is going to be able to correct them, basically for the street circuits. On the road courses and the ovals, I think he was as good as anybody. But his problems were the street circuits, and I think there's some things that I think we were able to discover with him on his driving and what he's been doing is going to make him more competitive on the street circuits this year.
Q: Michael, could you give us an update on the fourth car?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're working really hard on it. I have nothing to report yet. But there's a couple of deals that are getting closer and closer and my goal is to have four cars out there.
Q: Can we write off [an IndyCar race in] Fort Lauderdale for '13?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes for '13, for sure.
Q: Michael, besides the street circuits, where would you assess that Marco is at as a driver and what he needs to do to take it to that next level?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think just needs to break that ice and get a win or two early. I think if that were to happen it would help a lot. He's putting a lot of pressure on himself to the point where I think he's driving too hard. He's actually overdriving the car, especially on the street circuits.
So I think that's the biggest thing. I think he's got all the ingredients and talent to get it done. He has to control that side of it a little bit more. I think that will come if he can just get a few results; I think that would calm things down for him for sure.
Q: Ryan, as you enter the 2013 season, now you're a father, you've got a new number on the car, of course you're now the champion of the IZOD IndyCar Series. As you make your first start coming up shortly in St. Petersburg as you attack Turn 1, any different strategies this year to keep you on track at St. Pete?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Not really, no. I think we go about it like we did last year, which is to race smart but with a lot of aggression. I'm not going to change that about my driving style. That's for sure.
And I think it's just a big-picture racing, when you think about it about the whole season, banking points, really driving to the capabilities of your car and not over it. But taking the necessary risks you need to move yourself up in the points. Much of the same approach as last year, but things will be different in that we're going to have to work quite a bit harder to make sure we're extracting our full potential every weekend, to repeat or to defend our championship.
And we've got a lot to do in the series. We still haven't won at a lot of racetracks. We haven't won the biggest one yet. I should say I haven't, the Indy 500. I know Michael has won it as a team owner.
But we've got a lot to do. So we've got a lot on our plate as we do every year, and we're proud to be running the No. 1. But every time we looked at that No. 1 we realized we've got a lot to live up to and that we better be working around the clock to make it happen.
Q: Michael, what are your thoughts on the return to Pocono, and also about the sport in general in terms of where it stands in popularity?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Answer to your first question, I'm ecstatic about going back to Pocono. And I can't wait to hear the comments of the drivers after they drive it, because I think they're going to be in for a treat. For me it was one of my favorite racetracks, especially oval racetracks, anywhere (RIGHT: Michael on the inside in the No. 99 Kraco March at Pocono in 1985). It's just a lot of fun to drive.
It puts on great races and I think it's just going to be great to be back. For me it's sort of like a going back home track as well, because it's only like 40 minutes from where I grew up. I'm very happy that it's back on the schedule. It looks like they did a beautiful job with the repaving and the new walls and I think it's going to be a perfect place for IndyCar racing.
As for the series, I think there's a lot of great things to build on over what happened in 2012. I think the racing was as good as it's ever been in anytime in the history of this sport. The level of talent from the drivers to the teams to every aspect of the series is at an all‑time high. I think there's just so many positive things. We've just gotta build on them and talk about them and stop talking about all the negative stuff. It will be nice for once talking about the drivers and the teams and the races and not about the politics and things like that that go on – who cares about that?
So I think there's good things to build on and we're excited about the events that we're promoting. I think Milwaukee, it's shown that it's going to be bigger and better than it was last year. So hopefully that's a sign for all of IndyCar racing.
Q: Michael, from the Andretti Sports Marketing side of your business and the success you had as the event promoters at Milwaukee with Milwaukee IndyFest and Baltimore Grand Prix, what did you learn about race promotion for those events? And, how do you build upon the success that those events had?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think we learned that there's a lot of great IndyCar fans out there, and the problem we had was time, because both events, when we took them over, we only had like 100 days out. So we didn't have time to do everything that we'd like to do, but now having the year under our belt, there's a lot of things that we're going to hopefully do different and better.
But overall what we learned is that there are great fans out there. If you do a good job and you give them an event that they can come out and have fun with, they're going to do it.
Q: Do you think you could help out with promoting the race in Pocono and making it the kind of event the first return here that could really make it a strong hold on the schedule?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We've definitely talked with them, and we are there to help in any way that we can. We want it to be a success, as much as anybody. And if there's anything we can do to help out, we will. I know we talked about things about trying doing cross‑promotions with Baltimore and things like that, which I think is a possibility. So, yeah, we're in it to help in any way we can.
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