Q&A with Montoya, Newgarden, RHR and Rahal

Juan Montoya
Juan Montoya

Drivers
Juan Montoya
Ryan Hunter-Reay
Josef Newgarden
Graham Rahal

THE MODERATOR: What are your thoughts of how an IndyCar reacts here on the track?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: So far it's been good. We came here and tested before, so yesterday was a really good day for us for what we wanted to do. Today we had a couple… did a little bit of qualifying simulations, nothing too extreme. Just figured out an idea of what we need to do. I think it's going to be interesting because NASCAR is going to be here about two weeks before we race, two, three weeks, so I think it's going to change the track a lot with all that rubber they're going to lay down and everything, so we'll see how the track changes.

You know, you've got to be careful because we're doing two days of running, cleaning the track, sludging the tires, and the truck it just rubbers up and it's going to feel great. When you come back here to qualify, you're going to have, what, one one-hour session and then qualify. I think people — we're all kind of surprised ourselves.

It's going to be fun. I think it's going to be challenging to get to up to speed because you've got to really get out all the way to Turn 3 by the time you get into the track. You come by once, and because you run flat, they get up to speed, momentum is going to be key.

THE MODERATOR: I might be wrong, but I think this was the track that you did your first oval test on returning to the series. What's changed for you from then to now?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Oh, my God, that was scary back then. Honestly I can't even remember, I ran a 20.1 on the old car or something, and it was tough. It took me about 80 percent of the day to manage to get it to wide open through 1 and 2. 3 and 4 I did it right before lunch, I said, what the heck, got to try it. Helio took about five laps to run wide open. I remember he had like 15 laps just to settle the car, and at lap 5 he was flat, and I'm going, great.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]THE MODERATOR: You're in a unique position because you're one of the drivers that has tested here or raced here in another series in NASCAR and then soon in IndyCar. What are the differences in racing lines from that driving experience to this?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, certainly, it's going to be a little tougher. NASCAR runs on that apron on the back, and we can't. That big jump, we won't be able to do that, so you've got to keep it on the racetrack, where the actual racetrack is. It's going to be interesting.

I think the big thing is who's going to be best in traffic. That's always — it's a tough place to pass. Everybody seems to be really close together, very competitive. I think if you look at both aero kits, it seems like the cars are really close together again, so it's just going to — qualifying is going to be harder, racing is going to be harder, because everybody is going to be a lot closer together.

Q: You mentioned how important it's going to be running in traffic. Were you able to learn much about it last night, and what about tonight?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It was good when I managed to finally run with Andretti cars, actually. It was my best race running yesterday. It's hard because when — you've really got to be patient with all the team to be organized and say, okay, we're going to run together, get on the racetrack together and then we run, because we tried it and the first guy went through three-run speed and went flat out. By the time the fourth car was leading, he was like half a track behind. It's kind of crazy.

Q: On the short ovals like Milwaukee and Iowa and then this track, I assume it's going to be similar like if you're trying to pass somebody it may take a number of laps before you can actually get by them. How does this track compare to those other two?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Milwaukee is very different because Milwaukee is a place you have to brake or release lift a lot. Iowa you have to keep it in the groove so there's a little bit of a mixture in between. I think by yourself it's going to be very hard to pass if you're going behind somebody, but I think because it's so fast, I think the traffic is going to be a key thing, who is the best car in traffic. I think that's going to define — whoever nails whatever you need for this traffic is going to be the guy that's going to win this.

Q: What about running close with the other cars? I think you had to do a little of that last night. Is the amount of disturbance from the car in front the same as last year or different?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's hard because the Hondas and the Chevys react very different. Like for me when I follow a Chevy or follow a Honda, my car handles very different.

Q: How long are the tires lasting? What's the longest run you've managed to do so far?

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: In a row, I've done quite a few runs on laps where they've lasted about 15, 20 laps, and the idea today is to really do quite a bit more in one run.

But the problem is if you're not in traffic and you're limited in tires, sometimes you're better off stop and wait for the traffic. You look more — the opposite that you look on the racetrack — on a racing pin, you're looking for clean track; here you're looking for the messiest place you can be, or at least that's what I'm doing.

THE MODERATOR: Juan, thank you very much. Good luck this afternoon.

From one Indy 500 winter to the next, we're joined now by Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda. Ryan, you've also been through a day and a half of testing here at Phoenix. How great is it to be back?

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's my first time here racing, so it's great to be back in Phoenix, for the series to be back here. But a lot of us on pit lane it's our first time here, so trying to come to grips with it.

I certainly love short ovals. That's one of my favorite forms of racing.

Right now we're having some aero issues with the car. We're trying to sort out some really naggy stuff going on on the car, but you have to get through that stuff. That's what preseason testing is all about. Hopefully we'll find some solutions and be there in the p.m. session to really mix it up again like last night in traffic.

THE MODERATOR: Last night we saw a lot of different kind of testing than we did in the morning session, running in traffic. What was your assessment of how the Andretti cars reacted to that.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I felt really good with my car in traffic, especially on the first of two group runs that we did. The thing is around this place, it's just like Iowa a couple years ago, everybody in practice couldn't pass, and then in the heat races that we had, nobody could pass. But you have to get beyond lap 20 to really start mixing it up. That's when the tires start to fall off a bit, that's when the handling care sticks of each different car is magnified, and that's when the difference is going to be made, and also we're going to be hitting traffic here, so lap traffic or whatever it may be, different strategies, that's when the racing is really going to get hot around here.

Other than that you're not going to have one IndyCar drive around another one just in a straight line, just coming out of a corner or something like that. You need to be interacting with other cars in dirty air.

THE MODERATOR: This is one of the first tests that we've seen the Honda and Chevrolet cars reacting together in the preseason. What are your thoughts on the packages that each manufacturer is bringing?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't know, it's still very early. Right now the top of the fourth obviously dominated by our competitors, but we've been working hard with it. It's a new package, so it's our first time on a short oval with it, with the production kit, so this is our first time with it, and we're trying to just understand what every step of downforce trim is and how we need to compensate with the front wing and what those levels are, so we're setting our own guidebook right now on each step. We're kind of methodically stepping through it. It's a new piece, you know, and we have to understand it before we can really, really lean on it.

Q: Last night Marco was saying it's real heavy in Turns 1 and 2. Did you experience that and are you going to need Popeye's forearms to get through the race here?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think it's very similar to Iowa last year. I think the two are very similar. I don't think there's a whole lot different than that, and that was very physical. I think Iowa was one of the most physical races I've been in, and I think this one is going to be very physical, as well.

But if you have a good handling race car, I'll take that beating any day. If the car is good, it's one thing to be out there getting exhausted trying to drive a car that's ill-handling. It's another thing to be tiring out driving a car that's balanced. I'll definitely take the latter.

THE MODERATOR: The physicality of this track is being noticed by a lot of the drivers here. What are your thoughts?

Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, to me it's not — it's interesting, it's got characteristics of Iowa and Milwaukee to me. I think it's a little easier than Iowa, but it's still damned tough. I'm not trying to make it sound easy, it's not, it's really difficult. But maybe just a little — it's different than Iowa. Iowa you sustain the loading for longer than here. You know, there's — I think you reach about the same peak loading as Iowa in Turns 1 and 2, but it's more crimped and you get in and out of it quicker so it's not as sustained, and 3 and 4 is more open than Iowa and not quite as banked.

It's tough. The reason it's tough is because the track has so much grip. You can peel quite a bit of downforce off and still run fast around here because, I think, of the surface. You can really feel the surface has a lot of grip in it. So physically it's going to be very difficult, I think, for everyone, but maybe just a tick under Iowa, which was no small feat. That was a tough race.

Q: Do either of you feel the history of this place?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You're too young. I don't think you can even talk about it.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I didn't run here. I wasn't around.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The only time I ran it was in a test with Rahal in the end of '07, I believe, but I remember watching it as a kid, one of the best tracks. Like I said, the short ovals was one of my favorites to watch and also one of my favorites to drive. I just remember this place, IndyCars going by each other on the outside going into Turn 3. Always a great race here. It's a totally different racetrack, though, right now.

Q: I know you haven't driven it, but were you —

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I can tell you what, everyone talks about it, which to me is cool because you can hear, I think, the passion for the history here. This was a big fan favorite for many, many years, in the '80s, '90s, even early 2000s. I hear everyone talk about it. Ed tells me about his stories when he was a kid, this was like always his spring break destination, and he saw some really awesome races here, and this is where he used to hang out when he was younger.

You hear all of that, it kind of — I think it makes it exciting to be here for me when I hear all those stories.

But also I think more so than new venues that we've been to over the last couple years or venues that we've gone back to, this really seems like there's a serious amount of fan interest, so I hope when we get here for the race, it's just going to be packed. It seems like we're going to have a lot of people out here for just tests. We're still a month out and people are looking to come out. Hopefully that bodes well for the race. Hopefully we get a lot of people here. It seems like people really want to see us racing here, so that's great. It's a really great thing.

Q: Do you see this evolving into more than a one-groove racetrack, and if not or if so, what are the ethics about actually lapping cars? Do they stay on the line and you have to make your way around them?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't see it being a two-groove track, I just don't. Maybe a groove and a half. If you're lucky in some places, you've got a couple guys that are going to get away with it. It's just going to require timing passes in traffic when guys get held up and that ebb and flow of an oval race that you're going to have to wait for.

Like I said earlier, I don't think anybody is going to go around anybody, just drive right around someone, so you're going to have to wait to set it up for sure.

Sometimes the trickiest car to get around is that lap car that's just fast enough to be quick but not slow enough to really be holding you up. If you're dealing with old tires at that point, it could be very tricky.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, to me I think it's kind of hard to tell. This is a brand new package really that we're running this year, so it's unknown from what it was in the past, but to me it's really in between Milwaukee and Iowa. Milwaukee was really difficult to follow directly behind cars. You would — the whole car felt like it just wanted to take off from underneath you. The rear would twitch. Here you can actually follow directly behind people pretty decently. But it's not as open as Iowa with lane usage.

So it's got characteristics of both. You know, how that's going to play out for a race situation, I kind of agree with Ryan. I think you're going to see racing, it's just going to be more in pack situations where people get jumbled up, people check up. You're going to have people moving. Is that going to be in the corners? It might be a little tough. I think you might have some racing room in 1 and 2, but 3 and 4 I think you'll find difficult to go two wide.

You know, it's kind of an unknown, but I think there's going to be some kind of racing here for sure. I think we'll have somewhat of a show, absolutely.

THE MODERATOR: Ryan and Josef, thank you very much.

THE MODERATOR: Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing Honda. Graham, there's some fast times up there on the board today, a lot under the track record unofficially, of course. What are your thoughts on how testing has been going so far?

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it's good. It's been a lot of fun to be out here, and cars obviously very quick around this place. You know, really our first session today just totally focused on a couple qual sims. We didn't run a ton, but I think from what I've seen so far, we're the fastest Honda on the no toes, obviously Marco with the toe got us there right at the end of the session, but I think we're close.

You know, seeing some of our competitors at times makes me a little nervous, but I think, again, if we can qualify close and kind of outrace them like last year, we'll be in a pretty good spot. A little more work to do tonight just on race trim. You won't see us doing any qual sims. Maybe some others will, but we're just going to pound out as many laps as we can and try to make the race car a little bit better.

THE MODERATOR: We've been speaking about how this is one of the first teams that we've seen the Honda and Chevy cars together during the preseason. What are your thoughts on how they're measuring up?

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's going to be close. It's going to be competitive, just as it was last year. You know, seems like we have a little ground to make up still, but I think that they've done — they've put a lot of work into the off-season, Honda has, and they've worked very hard to make sure that we've closed the gap. You know, I think we're closer. It may not appear that way on the time sheets. If you look at the time sheets, it is so tight that it's hard to — just looking at the no-toe report, I think we're sixth or something, and I mean, it goes — obviously Josef and Ed are pretty quick, and then everybody else was like a (19).40, .40, .41, .42, .43, .44. I mean, the times are going to be extremely tight.

I think Honda has done a great job. We'll just keep working at what we can do, kind of find a little bit more. They're going to continue to work in the wind tunnel, I'm sure, find some other little tweaks that we can make before we come back here, but every little bit is going to make a big difference.

Q: When Juan was in here a little bit ago, he was saying that his car behaves differently behind the Chevys than it does the Hondas. Are you finding that to be the case, and if so, how do they react differently?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I haven't driven behind a competitor's car so far this test. I've driven behind a Honda, and the Honda is — it was pretty good for me last night, honestly. I was able to follow Conor quite close. But we found that last year, too, when you were behind a Penske, a Ganassi or whatever, the car handled very differently than behind another Honda car. So I'm not surprised.

I think maybe the Honda puts off a cleaner wake, so it's a little bit easier to follow. Before, the others were difficult to follow for sure. But again, we're going to find out tonight a lot more. I know my whole focus this evening will be to run in traffic, try to figure out what we need to do.

I know I listened to Ryan and Josef; I think a lane and a half at least will come in here from what I've seen of guys. You get a little understeer, there's a lot of guys running wide out of 1 and stuff, and therefore it'll keep the marbles off there and should allow others with better cars to stay underneath them and create some passing over time. You know, it's a pretty long, obviously, race, and it's going to be pretty physical. So hopefully some of the other guys fall out of the saddle a little bit, too. That would definitely help. But we'll see tonight.

THE MODERATOR: Graham, a very strong 2015 season for you, a great championship run. What are some goals that you have going into the new season?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, it's a tough one to live up to, but our goal, once again, we've got to be the top Honda team. We did that last year and we have to be that team once again. Yes, we're not that anchor team, but I think that we can perform the best of all their teams, so that's got to be one goal. We'd like to go for a championship. I think we proved last year that we can contend with the best of them.

As a single car it is tough. You come here today, you're getting one car's worth of data and others are getting four plus, so that is tough, but it's our job, same as last year. Focus on the 15 car, do the best that we can. If we do that, I think we can be competitive with everybody.

I'm cautiously optimistic that what we've done in the off-season is really not going to change any of the key people. Everybody is the same. But I think we've spent a lot of time refining the car. We've spent a lot of time working on the little details, and I think those little details will make a bigger difference this year than last, you know, making sure that the body fits are right. If you go look underneath the skin, so to speak, of our car, I guarantee you it's built as well as anybody if not better than most, other than maybe Penske has got hundreds of employees and we've got 20, so a little different. But our guys have done a fantastic job, and I think that will show on the track.

THE MODERATOR: That's a really great point because we had Sebastien Bourdais in here earlier, another team that will be operating with one car this season, and they mentioned that even though they're not a four-car team, they're still able to run and see success. What is it about the Verizon IndyCar Series right now that's allowing these smaller teams to be successful?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, I think that a lot of the teams, the knowledge base gets shared around over time. A lot of the engineers are the same. They go from one place to the next or wherever, so a lot of us get kind of knowledge passed around that way. The other thing is I think that the manufacturers have done a great job helping those teams. I know Honda has been great to us at sharing a lot of data, a lot of information that we can utilize from the wind tunnel tests and everything else that they're doing that we never had before. That was on the team to pay for those sorts of things, and it was extremely expensive. Wind tunnel day, I don't know, 50,000+ bucks; well, we don't have it in our budget to be able to do those things. Penske, Ganassi, all those guys, they can do that, but we haven't been able to do it in the past, and now Honda has made a big difference in helping with those sorts of tools.

I think what you do when you cut down to a one-car team and your focus is solely on that car, it allows everybody to perform at a higher level and allows everybody to perform with a one-goal mindset because everybody is on the same team, same car, same focus.

I think once you start to differentiate that and get more cars involved, it stretches people thinner. It starts to make your resources — yeah, you get more data but you're kind of stretched out and watered down a little bit on your resources because people have to spread out and do more. With our focus on the 15 right now, it's — everybody I think has pretty much focused on solely working on this car and getting this car the fastest, the best build and the most capable that they can, and same with KV or whatever they're going to do, just focusing on that one. We can be successful and we can chase down, I think, the bigger teams.

Q: How much is Spencer this weekend — he's kind of lurking in the background observing what you guys are doing. What has that interaction been like when he does come up and talk?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, Spencer is a pretty quiet kid, so he doesn't say much. He hasn't been around a ton I would say. He's on the radio here just kind of listening in and trying to do everything we can to get him up to speed because obviously we're going to be running him in I think three races this year, and it's key that when Spencer steps in, like Oriol Servia did for us before, when you get a guy that steps into that second car for whatever amount of races they're doing, they have to help add to the program. They can't be any sort of distraction.

So it's kind of my job, as well, to help Spencer get up to speed a little bit before we go testing. He's going to test early this next week in Sebring and he'll get a couple days there, so I would expect he's right on par come St. Pete.

But he's a good kid, which is nice, and I think he's very down to earth, obviously very competitive, very successful kid, but a little different than some of the other personalities around, definitely very well-grounded, and we're looking forward to having him out here.

THE MODERATOR: Graham, good luck this afternoon. Thank you.

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