An Interview with Ryan Hunter-Reay
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan was the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and will attempt to be the first driver since 1978 to win the first two races of the Triple Crown when the series races this weekend at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Ryan, Sunday at Houston you mentioned how big of a challenge it is to win any race in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Winning more than one 500-mile race in the same year seems to be a daunting task.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It does, absolutely. I mean, coming off the heels of the Indy 500, I'm pretty confident in our oval panel, especially on the bigger ovals. Hopefully we can make a big run for it.
We had a good test there. It's something I'm looking forward to. Obviously the Triple Crown would be a huge honor to be a part of.
One step at a time. One stint at a time. We'll see how Pocono goes. One thing's for sure, it's going to be a hard-fought race.
THE MODERATOR: Pocono is a unique track on the race being a two and a half mile tri-oval. You mentioned you had a good test. What is the key to success at Pocono, and what will that extra 100 miles on Sunday mean to the way you approach the race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, they don't call it the tricky triangle for nothing. It is a very tough track, especially in an IndyCar in turn three. It's low grip.
When you get into traffic, it's not as easy to follow as it would be at Indianapolis, say.
It would be more difficult than that. The dirty air has a certain effect on the car in turn three. It makes it hard to follow. Makes it hard to set up passes. You really have to work on your racecar. You got to make it actually balance well in turn one and turn three, which is a difficult thing to do. So we'll have our work cut out for us starting in practice for this weekend's race.
THE MODERATOR: You're third in points, but it's a double points race so you can gain a lot of ground back this weekend. How critical is Pocono to your championship hopes?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It is. It's absolutely critical. Even the double points races, even the double headers, we came off a double points race at Houston. It was two races, but still double points.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Ryan Hunter-Reay.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely we did. We came out of Indy with a pretty strong points lead. Left Texas looking like we were a little too far out of first.
But we've done a good job at Houston to close that gap a little bit. Certainly closed up on Helio. We're now two points out of second place. As I mentioned before, we've got a string of races here coming that could really play a huge part in the championship fight.
On day two we had a broken rear shock. We were limping around but we still finished 6th.
To me, Sunday at Houston was a win for us. We should have probably finished 18th, 19th, 20th, and we ended up with a 6th. Really happy with the way Houston went and I'm looking forward to going to Pocono. Feel like I have unfinished business there.
Q. Pocono, its unique shape, what are some of the other unique characteristics about it? Obviously last year pit road became a bit of a hazard for you, but that wasn't necessarily because of the track layout. Is it difficult when you come off that third turn to dive into the pits? That turn is almost like a hairpin in some ways.
I don't think it's any more difficult than it would be after, let's say, Indy or Texas or anything like that.
Q. I wondered, winning the Indy 500 is such a big deal and it's really for life. Is it too soon to feel what it means, the significance of it? As you said, you've had several more races. You're not sitting there looking at your trophy. Has it sunk in yet, what you've done?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It has a little bit. But it can only sink in so much. As you mentioned, that's the biggest reason why it hasn't, because right after winning the biggest race in the world we went to Detroit. We went to Texas the weekend after that. We had one weekend off and then went to Houston.
It's been super busy. Coming up we have eight race weekends in ten weeks. It's going to be non-stop.
For sure I understand everything that went on and just how big it was. Not only the fact of winning the 500, but for the sport itself, how the 500 finished, how great the finish was, is the best part for me.
I look forward to looking back on it, watching the whole race. I haven't even had time to watch the race again and kind of relive it.
But it's something I'm enjoying every step of the way. Recently we were nominated for an ESPY. The good news keeps coming, so definitely enjoying every bit of it along the way.
Q. Ryan, being back at Pocono, the proximity to some major media markets, how good is it to be back at Pocono? I would think a lot of folks within the series think it's a big deal to be in the northeast corridor with extra media opportunities. Your thoughts on this race in context to helping the series?
The added bonus is we're in the right market. We need to be putting on our races there, IndyCar does. Pocono, it was a major part of the schedule back in the day, and it seems to be that now it is again.
So hopefully the fans will receive us well there. If we keep on putting on great shows, there's no reason it can't work. I think this one's going to be a 500-mile race that will come down to the wire just like Indy did.
Q. Can you give me your insights into the team dynamic of Andretti Autosport, how unified you are, how well you work together with Michael Andretti being the leader?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, of course it starts from the top. Michael is a driver. He understands the driver aspect, what the drivers need, what they want out of a car, from a racing team. It's professional from the top down, with my engineer Ray being the technical director. Kyle Moyer is team manager.
The team knows how to get the job done. They know how to win championships. They know how to win Indy 500s. I find myself driving one of their cars, that's all I can ask for, to be in equipment capable of winning the biggest races and challenging for the championship. That's where we are.
We all have gone through it and understand if one of us helps another, it helps all of us go faster and pushes us in the right direction faster than if we worked as individual teams.
It's all working very well right now, but we still got a long way to go in this championship for 2014.
Q. Speaking of Marco, do you feel like the blue flag should have been thrown considering his position in the race? Do you feel IndyCar maybe needs to look at its philosophy with regard to that?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I mean, this isn't my fight to fight, but when a lead lap car is still on the lead lap, whether he's P2 or last, just in front of the leader, he's on the lead lap and he's got a right to be there.
I've been in a position plenty of times where I've been the leader of the race, there's a lead lap car in front of me getting ready to be lapped, and IndyCar has never given me any help on that. I didn't expect it.
That guy is fighting for every inch of the racetrack in order to stay on the lead lap. Especially in IndyCar, just because the beginning of your race goes south, you can still come back and win the race - even if you fight to just get that first pit stop.
You come out in front of the leader, things could cycle through to where you could come out fourth or fifth on the next stop. That's the way it goes. I think it was the wrong call from IndyCar, but that's definitely not my fight. I think we put our opinion forward on it. I could tell you that there is no way that early in the race, at any point in the race, that Marco would be told to slow Sato up in order for James to catch Sato.
Marco still had his own race to run. The kid is fifth in the championship. He's got a shot at contending for the title. There's no way after 10, 15 laps he's going to give up his entire race to help his teammate out.
Q. I would assume if you could take your team affiliation out of it it doesn't change your perspective.
When you really look at it, look at the details, that Marco is fifth in the championship, it's still so early in the race in a street circuit, which you know on street circuits you roll the dice on strategy just once and you're right up at the front. Look at Dale Coyne and Carlos there at Houston.
Q. I know you're not the race director. I don't expect you to be. I do wonder, if looking at the Graham penalty on bumping Kanaan there at the end of the first race, do you feel like you've got to throw some kind of penalty there? Take the people out of it. Do you think a penalty has to be called there?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You know, that's a tough one. I mean, obviously Graham didn't mean to do it. It wasn't intentional. Then again, I don't think we see many times in an IndyCar where you're going to take the front of your car, which is extremely fragile with the front wing, and turn another car around. Chances are you're going to come out with damage with it just like Graham did. But, you know, I think prior to a restart you've got to be responsible for your actions. They hadn't even come to the green yet. It's a situation that should not have occurred. Racing had not started yet and he got turned around. It's a tough one. I haven't had a chance to look at the replays yet. I saw one on my phone. That's about it. It's a tough situation for both of them because Graham turned T.K. around; T.K. had a chance to finally have a good finish.
I think Graham needs to be heads up at that point, but at the same time he took off his front wing.
Had they continued racing, Graham wouldn't have gone very far with that front wing, so he probably ruined his own race anyway.
Q. Ryan, having had such a good car at the Superspeedway like Indy, all the success you had over there, does that give you more confidence heading into Pocono this weekend because of the longer straightaways, higher speeds after what was a pretty tough stretch after that?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, it gives me some confidence. With that said, Pocono is a completely different animal than Indianapolis. They're both very long. That's about all they have in common. The two tracks require different setups. They drive differently.
To set up passes is an entirely different exercise at Pocono than it is at Indy. You've got to focus on different parts of the track than you would at Indianapolis, and that means a different car. It's also a different tire, different tire compound from Firestone.
There are many aspects and variables that go into it that make it a different beast than Indianapolis.
With that said, like I mentioned before, we had a good test. I was pretty happy with it. I'm feeling pretty optimistic heading into the first practice of the weekend.
Q. Talking about the tires, I know it's new right side compounds for this weekend.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: That's correct.
Q. Having been able to test on those, what do you think the expectations are heading into it? Do you like the tire? Does it feel different than last year?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I like the tire. We tested on a pretty green racetrack with lack of rubber. But from what I felt, I liked it. I think it's going to make for some great racing.
I can't really comment any more on it than that because I didn't run it for an extended period of time. I think it's going to make for some good racing, and I like the balance.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about qualifying at Pocono. Take us around two laps during qualifying, what the key is to perhaps winning the pole there this weekend.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, with Pocono, it's like Indianapolis. You have a choice on how much downforce to run. The tricky part about that for the driver and team is you can trim it out, get downforce and drag off the car. You're going to go faster in a straight line, but the car, it has a freer feeling. It's more on top of the racetrack. It's sliding more. If you get too much sliding going on, or lack of grip, you're going to lose speed.
There's a happy medium there that's very tough to find at Pocono.
It will be tricky. Qualifying is not as simple as putting your foot to the floor and running around the place like it is at let's say Texas. It's a tricky track to get it right. It's all about the right compromise.
The teams will be rolling the dice on what downforce they pick for qualifying, and the drivers will be on edge, trust me. Turn three qualifying at Pocono, it's got your attention as much as it does qualifying at Indy.
Q. I know there was talk earlier after the 500 looking ahead to next year, trying to get next year's plans locked in. How do you maintain focus on the current season in your championship push while you're looking ahead to getting things locked up for next year?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I mean, the nice thing it's actually not difficult, because I think Andretti Autosport and myself are on the same page. We're working in that direction, talking about the future.
So it's actually not stressful just because things are in agreement, things are heading in the right direction.
While we don't have a contract yet, I think it's all heading in the right direction. So thankfully it's not a stressful situation; therefore, I can concentrate on what really matters, and that's winning the championship this year.
Q. With the season ending earlier, are you optimistic you can continue your versatility in terms of doing other events?
I'm optimistic that things will pan out that way. But if it all goes as planned, I'll be a pretty busy boy.
Q. Saw some photos yesterday of the scoring pylon being taken down at Indy. I know a picture was posted of you being at the top probably taken Monday morning at the photo shoot. Seeing that come down, how does it feel to be the last person on that pylon that's going to be replaced?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, I mean, it feels great obviously. It's great to have that picture, have that memory. I think the new pylon will probably be gorgeous, it will be beautiful, and we'll all forget about this one.
But this one has been around I guess since '94. That's what I understand. It had a great 10-year run. Honored to be the last one on top of it.
Q. Is there any plan for you to get a piece of that?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't know. I made a joke on Twitter that I would love to have it. I'll put it in the front yard (laughter).
But, no, I don't know yet. Too busy to really chase that one down. I'd love to have any piece of it. That would be great.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely I think there needs to be a few more ovals. The driver in me thinks IndyCar should always be well-balanced in it's the only circuit in the world that races on everything.
Yeah, we need more ovals. But it has to make business sense. IndyCar is a business. The teams are in a business of motor racing. With that comes a lot of corporate support. It absolutely has to make business sense.
We have to fill the stands and be in the right markets. I think anywhere we go we're going to put on a great show. But I am the biggest cheerleader for adding more ovals, adding at least a few more to balance it out, because you have these double headers on the street circuits. If you have a really good street circuit program, you can keep your championship afloat just from being successful there.
So I think we need to balance it out a little bit more and look at the points picture, looks at the points pay-out, and look at balancing the series out, making it equally road course, street course, and oval.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: That's what I'm saying. Let's do that. I like that idea. We've been talking about it. The funny thing is at Andretti Autosport we're talking about it because we've been pretty successful on the short ovals. The short oval is the only discipline of racetrack that we don't pay double points. We pay double points on the road and streets and on the superspeedways. We don't pay double points on the short ovals at all. Short ovals is what IndyCar is all about. That's kind of where it all started. It started obviously at the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Milwaukee Mile is the oldest racetrack in the world. It's deep in IndyCar heritage.
That's somewhere I think if we're going to do a double-point race, that would be an ideal one. Doing doubleheaders I'm not sure about. We need to look at that more as the season goes on, because in the off-season about the doubleheaders, where we do them, and the double-point races.
Q. Because there's going to be races the next two weeks on ovals before you get back to the street side - I don't want to say that the racing isn't fast and furious on the ovals because it is - but you have a little bit more room and race a little bit more frantic. Is it pretty good to get off the streets for a few weeks?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely. It's nice to be heading to a nice smooth track like Pocono. I have a bruised bone in my wrist from the kick-back in the steering wheel in Houston. It's just brutal, the bumps, how this car takes them.
It was a good couple days at Houston. It seemed like it was a good show. That's most important. The drivers and the cars put on a great show. Although it was hot, humid, bumpy, in the end it seemed like everybody came out pretty happy about it. Hopefully next year we'll be racing at night there.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as there are no further questions for Ryan, we'll wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call and thank him for his time and wish him the best of luck this weekend at Pocono.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: All right. Thank you.
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