An Interview with Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series media availability. We are joined by James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ryan is the fastest overall driver from two of three practice sessions so far. Again fastest today in P3.
You won pole here last year, Ryan. Conditions are getting trickier by the minute. What is it going to take to repeat pole here at Mid-Ohio?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I was liking my car in the dry. It's been a nice progression from the test here with the Andretti Autosport cars. I think everybody has been pretty happy with them. I certainly have been.
Could have gone drier for a couple more hours. The biggest thing, well, not the biggest thing, but it would have been a nice side token, the track record was at stake. I thought that was going to fall today. It will probably go on another year because of the wets.
This track is really tough in the wet. Every place is. It's extremely slick here. You have to put it all on the line to be quick here. It's going to be tough. It's not going to be easy, as you can see with the GT cars flying off the track.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by Ryan's teammate James Hinchcliffe.
James, take us through the practice sessions and what you're expecting from qualifying this afternoon.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think like Ryan said, we had a pretty good test here as a team. Came into the weekend feeling pretty good.
The practices for me, they've been productive, just kind of frustrating. It's always tough to get a lap here. A lot of guys insist on having 14-second gaps to get a lap time, which I haven't quite figured out yet. I haven't done a proper new tire run for three consecutive laps.
But, no, I think we have a little bit more in the car. Obviously with Ryan going quick, we have the best baseline to go off of. Looking forward to a nice dry qualifying.
As has been the theme this year, we seem to have rain at 80% of the races, so why not here, too?
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead with questions.
Q. Ryan, are the Penske guys catchable in this points race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely they are. We are somewhere around 70 points back, is that what it is?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: 69.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Round up, that's what I did with that (laughter).
So, yeah, in 2012 I think we were back 63 points, I'm not sure what it was, but it was a pretty big margin. We had less amount of time to do it then.
So with a double points race at Fontana and races now at Mid-Ohio, which is a strong one for us, Milwaukee is a strong one for us, Sonoma we've been pretty good at, I think there's absolutely a good shot at it.
We'll probably need some help, a little bit of help, from Helio having an off weekend. Will is right there as well.
Yeah, we're going to keep our heads down, hopefully be a little bit of an underdog going into Fontana with the title on the line. That's all I can ask for.
Q. Does it help having the two teammates battling each other?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Helio has just been so consistent. The current points layout and the pay-out system, the current points system, it so rewards consistency. If you have an off weekend or if you have a DNF, it punishes that.
Helio with one win is way out in front in the championship right now. We've won three, and we're a ways back. I don't think that's necessarily the best thing. I think wins should be rewarded more than finishing solidly in the top five every weekend.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Basically won four actually because of the double.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Because of the double. Can we put that on my résumé? Looking for the prize money in that one, too.
It's going to be tight. But you have a double points race at the end. I think we have a definite shot at it. We finished fourth there in 2012. Fontana is going to be tough to finish for anybody.
Q. On a similar note, Ryan, do you feel your team, where you are as a driver, is at the same level as it was in 2012?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I feel like we're even stronger. Obviously the whole field has come closer together. But at the front, at the point of it all, I think we're stronger than we were then to be able to pull it off.
Like a double at Pocono, we had a DNF there early in the race. Those double points races, when you get a DNF, really hurts. That's been tough on us.
Yeah, we've got a shot at it. I think this team's as strong as it's ever been to pull it off.
Q. James, from your standpoint, you came into the year with some high hopes. Hasn't quite gone very well for you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: We're planning a late charge. It's not over till the fat lady sings.
Q. But to get a victory here, how big a boost would that be?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It would be huge. I think it would validate the effort that we all feel at Andretti Autosport and the 27 car has put in this year.
Despite the results, I've been driving better. The crew has been performing better. The car has been more competitive. We've checked every box and improved in every measurable way, things that are in our control.
To not have any results to show for it for the entire year, it is frustrating. So for the last few rounds, definitely you want to get a strong result to kind of give the guys that boost, that affirmation that what we're doing is good and we're heading in the right direction.
Q. Ryan, would you rather be chasing or leading?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Chasing is more fun, but leading you have that points cushion. If something does go wrong, you have a shot at still the championship. I think I'd rather be leading. I guess my whole career I've been chasing, so I think that is the way it should be.
Q. What’s with James’ facial hair?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We have a group of guys that are diehard 28 fans that are called Team Stash. They have the logo, the moustache. They donated over a thousand dollars for cancer. It started if I would grow a moustache. Well, I'd have to work a season to do that.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It would take him a fair amount of time.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: He's picked it up here. He's gone almost all the way there. I was really hoping he'd go clean. This morning he offered, he said, Ryan, if you raise another thousand dollars, I'll just go moustache.
I was, Done.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: When I said that, I was a little drunk.
Q. This morning?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That was a joke. Drunk on happiness to be able to drive at Mid-Ohio. Duh!
This is for my homeboy Ryan Hunter-Reay who is definitely not as awesome at growing a moustache.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It looks like a goatee.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's shaved here. It's like the handlebar, like the 'My Name is Earl' kind of thing. I have the little soul patch.
Q. Kenny Powers.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That's pretty awesome.
Q. Did you donate anything money-wise?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I donated my face, my ego and embarrassment is what I donated.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't think you've gone far enough on the embarrassment side. It needs to go the awkward side.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I could go maybe more for it tomorrow. I think the guys are only coming tomorrow. I thought they were going to be here today to see it in all its glory. I'll have to keep it. If I'm on pole, I will put it just moustache for the race.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Oh, boy. You heard it here.
Q. Maybe could you speak a little bit about Carlos and the progress you have seen within Andretti, how he has contributed to the team.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Carlos has done a great job. He's done a great job as a rookie. I think he's done it right with having a few races in 2013, then came in as a full rookie in '14. Definitely the right way to do it.
He's been very fast. Obviously he's learning every race weekend, especially in the races. This is a really tough series to be a rookie in because of how close it is. You could see today, it was a testament to how competitive the series is.
The times are ridiculously tight. He's done an excellent job. He's very quick, got a lot of natural talent.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: He's actually very Montoya-esque in the sense that his hands are faster than anybody I've seen. The last guy that could drive a car like that that I can remember watching is Juan. He's as brave as they come. There's no doubt about it.
Yeah, Ryan nailed it. This is not only a tough series to be a rookie in for how competitive it is, but the amount of testing you get. Obviously the jump up from Lights to IndyCar is very big on a race weekend, not just in terms of the demands in the car, but more so the demands outside of the car.
He's learning every weekend like Ryan said. He's got loads of natural talent and I think there's more to come from him.
Q. Ryan, all races are important, but one you've excelled at is Milwaukee, coming up after this. Do you see that as a key to getting back in control of the championship?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I hope so. But with this series you can't count on anything. We were expecting a certain balance at Iowa that we didn't get. Milwaukee we had a good test there, so things are heading in the right direction, I think.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Sorry Iowa worked out so poorly for you (laughter). He won.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think it has the potential to go our way. But there's a lot we have to put together for that to happen.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I'm just going to bowl over all the competition for him.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Why not?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Selfless.
Q. Getting back to Carlos being a rookie this year, is he able to bring any ideas to help the other drivers at Andretti Autosport? He's been in Indy Lights, raced a lot of tracks, but racing a totally different car.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, he absolutely contributes. Him and his engineer, I have a lot of respect for, smart guy, they've done a great job together. They contribute to the bottom line racing setup. Then at times we see full opposite lock is okay through some corners.
Q. (Question about point structure.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, it's the payout. What the race winner gets, the gaps that go all the way back. A couple years ago, it used to be down at the end of the field, the back of the field, you would get some points for your finishes back there. So it would not penalize you as much for a DNF. Now you can get one point essentially somewhere in the back.
So it's definitely changed that way. And the gaps in the middle, in the top 10, have tightened up a lot. So that's where the consistency is paid for.
As for Fontana, there's a big swing at stake there. If one guy in the championship hunt has a bad day, one has a good day, it can turn the whole thing upside down. We'll see.
Hopefully we'll have three or four cars tied for the championship going into Fontana. I think it will make for a great race.
Q. You've had pretty much this whole season to look at double points, two races, how that's changed the championship this year. With only one more double points race remaining, do you think that's something that's added to the championship and IndyCar?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I personally think, not just because of how it ended this year, but I think that Indianapolis should be the only double points race.
I mean, c'mon, seriously, it is the most important race we have. We're there for a month. Why wouldn't it be double points?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Because it hasn't been for the last 97 years.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We have a month long of practice and qualifying over two weekends. We don't do that anymore. We completely threw out the qualifying procedure at Indianapolis, as well.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: All valid points.
If there is going to be a double points race, I would vote Indy. I still don't think there should be (indiscernible) double points race.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I agree with you on that part.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Let's say you have a good superspeedway car, you have a chance at 300 points instead of 150 points. If you have a good short track car, good Mid-Ohio car…
It's not just that there's double points races, it's they're all on the same type of racetracks. I think that unfairly sways who has the best chance at getting those points.
It's the same for doubleheaders, they're all street courses. If you have a better street course car, you have a better chance at scoring double points than if you have a really good Mid-Ohio car.
For the sake of consistency, the championship, equality, I just think they're not very fair.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: IndyCar has always been one of the true drivers' championships because it covers all disciplines of racing other than let's say dirt. We don't do that. But it's the short oval, the superspeedway, the road courses, street circuits.
That's the one thing that sets it apart.
You tip that to one side or the other when you start rewarding double points on certain types of racetracks. It gives emphasis on that type of racing.
Leave the schedule as it is, let's add some races, but do away with the double points.
Q. James thinks they should all be double points.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I like where your head is at. All the double points races, you have to win both Milwaukee and Iowa to equal a good Fontana car, right? It's just not even. Very different packages. As a team we're strong on short tracks. Superspeedways we were lucky. Some guys don't have that. From a championship point of view, I'd rather do away with the double points and add three more ovals.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: 500 miles at Milwaukee, double points, boom.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Do it.
THE MODERATOR: I think we've learned a lot. Thank you, gentlemen. Good luck.