An interview with:
RYAN HUNTER REAY
THE MODERATOR: We'll begin with our Verizon IndyCar Series Post Qualifying press conference. We are pleased to be joined by our fifth place starter and tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Jack Hawksworth driving the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda. Jack is competing for the first time in the Verizon IndyCar Series at Long Beach, and he started 8th in St. Pete, so this will be his second Top 10 finish in his first two starts.
JACK HAWKSWORTH: I hope it's a Top 10 finish tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: There you go. How was qualifying today? This is obviously your second Verizon IndyCar Series race, getting ready for your second showing. Obviously, qualifying very well on these street courses.
JACK HAWKSWORTH: Yeah, it was good. We had a pretty solid session. I think that was good about the session was we continued to make it better throughout every run. So had a couple of really clean, clean laps in session 1 and session 2. Then session 3 the car was really good again, which is good. I probably didn't get quite as much out of it as I did coming off of turn 1 on the final lap, but I mean, the car was really good.
I was really proud of all the guys at Bryan Herta. They really pushed hard in the last few weeks, and they've given me such a fantastic opportunity. So thank you to them and to Castrol, and everybody involved, Charter, and just fantastic day really for everybody.
THE MODERATOR: We're also pleased to be joined by tomorrow's fourth place starter in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. Josef started second in this race in 2012 with the best finish of 13th in 2013. Josef, tell us about qualifying today?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, it went okay. Oh, man, it was so close. It was just so close between everyone. You know what was weird was that there wasn't a big jump from Blacks to Reds today. I don't know why that was. I don't know if it's because the Indy Lights cars are now running on Coopers so we don't get as much Firestone rubber during race weekend. We saw a similar thing in St. Pete. Just wasn't a big jump.
We ran a 78.1 this morning, and feeling really good about it. I think we've had an incredibly fast car from the git go here. We just didn't go quicker in qualifying, and no one really did. More people jumped further than us, but we didn't go that much faster. I was surprised not to see Will make it either. He was very good this morning, so it's kind of weird in the way.
But car felt really good in qualifying for us, we just didn't have enough. So thankful that we got the Top Six. I mean, that's obviously a big goal in its own right. So we're going to be starting tomorrow with good company, hopefully, and we've just got to stay there. That is the goal for us to stay up front.
Q. Jack, you were here last year in Indy Lights. It didn't end well, obviously, and didn't end well at St. Pete, so obviously starting up front this is phenomenal for you. But what about the race tomorrow? How is it going to be to stay clean with all these other cars running so close. I think in the combined practice the top 21 were within a second?
JACK HAWKSWORTH: Yeah, I think it will be good. We'll have good race pace and hopefully avoid the restart carnage this time and should be in good shape. The car's been quick all week, so we'll hopefully get a good launch. And then, yeah, just get on it and push all the way through and see where we end up. I feel pretty good about it. Race pace will be strong. It was strong in St. Pete, so, yeah, we'll go out and get after it.
Q. Jack, you've been very fast at St. Pete and now this race probably surprised a few people. It's a small team with just one driver. How much time did you have in the off season? I saw you testing at Sebring. I think it was February 17th or something like that. But I mean, how much preparation have you had to jump from Indy Lights to IndyCar?
JACK HAWKSWORTH: I mean, I've tested at Sebring a couple of times. Then I did the two days at Barber, the preseason and then we went to St. Pete. But the guys at Bryan Herta they've got a good foundation already, and it's been so easy to work with them that, to be honest, when you have a good foundation to build from, it wasn't why we weren't picking up at square one. It was already kind of there, and we just chipped away ever since, and I think we're just getting a little bit stronger every session, every weekend, and, yeah, it's really positive.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, good luck in the race tomorrow. We'll welcome Sebastien Bourdais who will be starting third in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, driving the No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet. Sebastien has won pole here twice in 2006 and 2007 and won three races in a row in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Starting third in tomorrow's race. Sebastien, what were conditions like in qualifying today?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It was fun. First of all, I really need to thank all the people at E Cigarettes with Mistic. It's been a great partnership so far. That white car is good karma. So it's good to be here and Jimmy, Kevin and Sully for putting that program together, and all the guys that did the work in the background silently keeping their heads down and making it happen for me. So all the guys at KVSH it's really been a team effort.
We all thought we were going to have a shot at this after a very loaded of work winter. I really believe that it's paying off. We had a fast car in St. Pete, and we really have a fast car here. Came just a bit short, but there's always tomorrow, so we're going to keep digging, and hopefully we can make it happen tomorrow.
Q. Five different teams represented in the Top Six. What do you attribute that parity too?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Maybe the cars are separated by a hundredths. It's just all bets are off, really. It's all over the fact that you have a lot of cars that can obviously or well seem to be able to make it happen. It's just you look at how the gaps are close, and then you just realize that all it takes is a little thing to go sideways and that's it. You don't make it.
When you see Will Power who is obviously kind of king of qualifying, and not making it out of group two, it's kind of surprising. I think it really sums up how much things are uncertain right now in IndyCar, and how the field is competitive. So it's a big testimony to, obviously, the quality of the field, the quality of the cars, and the fact that, obviously, Indy car came up with a package that limits how much you can do to the cars and just puts everybody on a level playing field.
Q. Everybody was pushing very hard in qualifying, what is it, it's very, very small, but the separation. Is the Dallara something if you push too hard it just doesn't like it? What is that car like to go fast here?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: As I said yesterday, it's all about balance. You just need the car to be connected, meaning solid entry and minimum understeer through the middle and the exit. It's all about getting the car to work together and being able to brake late and back off the brakes and carry as much speed as possible, and get on power as aggressive as possible. It's tiny little details, but obviously you throw track revolution, the wind that's picked up during the session and the right tires and this and that, and it's a lot of things you've got to factor in. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong.
THE MODERATOR: We'll welcome our next two drivers. We're pleased to be joined by Simon Pagenaud driving the No. 77 Charter Communications/SPHM Honda. Simon started fourth and finished second in 2012 and will be starting sixth in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Simon, we were just talking. There is such parity in the Top Six drivers that made the Firestone Fast Six today. What do you attribute that to? How did Schmidt Peterson Hamilton get into that mix?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, the car has been good all weekend. It was very good in St. Pete as well. It's just a testament to the work the team has put in over the winter. Honda has been awesome. I mean, there are five Hondas in the Top Six. So it helps to have the right horse behind you. The car was very good. It was just time. At some point it's how are you going to use those red tires, and it works better for some cars than others, and I think our car was pretty good on it.
THE MODERATOR: We're is also joined by James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport. Best start 7th in 2013, best finish of 3rd in 2012. Just bested that best start, starting second in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. How was qualifying for you, and obviously, two Andretti Autosport teammates in the Fast Six today.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, it was great to have Andretti Autosport lock out the front row. The United Fiber and Data car has been quick all through practice, and it was really just a function of trying to put it all together. You never know quite what you're going to get when you strap on those Firestone Reds for the first time. Luckily we were in the ballpark.
Didn't quite get the best out of the set on Q2, and we just kind of sneaked in there. But in Q3, I haven't done a ton of these Fast Sixes, so still learning the tricks of running a set of Reds for a second stint, but we're obviously quick there.
I think Ryan made a good move, only doing a couple, winning three laps instead of four. So if you're going to lose a pole to somebody, I guess I'm glad it's a teammate. So congrats to everybody, Ryan, and everybody at United Fiber & Data.
Q. For any and all of you, the fact that there are no Team Penske and no Ganassi drivers in the Fast Six, how unusual is that?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, I guess it is, but I've seen Will win this race from like 12th. We've all seen what can happen in these races. They're very long, especially with the new pit close rule under yellow. That can get a guy up real quick. So it's definitely bizarre to not see them up there. But at the same time, we know they're going to be strong in the race.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think it's very tight. The competition is really high. If you look at the lap time at the end of the Fast Six between P2 and P6 is only a 10th of a second. So you can only imagine a 10th of a second driving a car at this speed how detailed you have to be at your driving like Sebastien was saying. It's just super competitive. And really I think it's the best drivers all around in IndyCar.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, not much to add really. Every segment pretty much between the first sixth, it was always two tenths maximum. So it takes nothing to be in or out of it. Sometimes it's your day, and sometimes it's not.
Q. I have a question for both the French drivers because you're starting behind the Andretti front row. Sebastien, where do you think you can pass here? Because you're going to want to obviously win the race. And then Simon, you're starting in the third row, same question for you.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't think there is anything new here. Best shot is probably turn one. Like I was saying yesterday, the blocking is opening up a little bit. It's going to be harder. Track position is even more crucial than it's ever been. Regardless, we're going to do our race and do our best and see how it shakes out. But that Mistic car has got it, so I hope we can make it happen tomorrow.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I think obviously starts and restarts are good opportunities. You know, it's a good track for passing actually because there is a lot of action in turn one, not only in the start, but also during the race. There is a lot of fuel saving usually, that makes for different strategies. So I think we've seen a lot of action here in Long Beach, and it could be anything could happen really tomorrow.
Q. How did your standing start practice go and how do you feel about that for tomorrow?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It went up to 15 miles an hour. Yeah, that was excellent. We have had the best practice ever (laughing). Sorry, I couldn't hold that one.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Obviously, Sebastien's point is pretty valid. Where it was set up didn't give us the best opportunity to really test it. But it's going to be more difficult here than anywhere else. A, we've been or B, that we will go, because it is a curved front straightaway, and it's also a cambered front straightaway, so as soon as you get wheel spin, the cars are going to start grabbing and it will be difficult. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out to be honest.
Q. For Simon and the other Simon, were you guys disappointed to not get the pole he knows what I mean. Because all French guys look alike. Were either of you disappointed to not get the pole based on how fast you'd been?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yes, absolutely. It was so tight, and like I said, it's all about details. For us, it's more time management than anything. The car kept getting better and better, so I just felt like we had the package, we just need to work on those little details to be able to extract more out of it. On the last lap I did, I think if I turned another lap it would have been even faster, but it's too late, it's the game. The other guys were better prepared. We'll prepare better for next time.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, obviously topping group one and topping Q2, you always hope that you can pull it off. But I think like James said, our car was pretty much on the money in the first two segments and they seemed to be making progress in the last one.
So it is what it is. I'm just glad that we managed to get in and on the second row it was a pretty good starting spot. There is a lot of racing tomorrow. So you're never happy not to be on pole, but, we are where we are, and we'll keep on digging.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the penalty at St. Pete.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Really, you're going to do this?
Q. It came very late, so were you confused by it? Did you understand why you were penalized?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: At first not really, because I thought it was because of the restart where I had been caught out a little bit, and it was a quarter inch or something between me and the car in front of me. But regardless, it is what it is. You can't wind the clock back, you just have to make the best of it, which is what we did. We fought our way back to 13th. We ended up passing ten or 12 cars to finish where we started. But such is racing sometimes. It's not always going your way, and when that's the case, you just try to limit the damages, and hopefully we'll have plenty of good days ahead of us.
THE MODERATOR: James Hinchcliffe starting second, Sebastien Bourdais starting 3rd, and Simon Pagenaud starting sixth in tomorrow's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
We'll welcome our pole sitter, Ryan Hunter Reay. This is Ryan Hunter Reay's sixth career pole and his last since Mid Ohio in 2013. Started second in three of the last four races here. Ryan, I bet you're glad to finally move up to that No. 1 spot.
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Yeah, it's been frustrating as of late. At Long Beach we've been on the outside pole by hundredths of a second, not tenths of a second, but hundredths. So to finally get the pole here is very fulfilling. The guys gave me a great car when I needed it. What was most entertaining about the session though was the fact that it was anybody's. You didn't really have a favorite. It was anybody's session, and you didn't know who was going to put up that last lap. So that's why the competition at IndyCar right now is pretty ridiculous, actually. It's amazing.
THE MODERATOR: You're a former winner at this race winning in 2010. What can we expect going into the race tomorrow?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Probably the unexpected. There is just so much that this race has. It's different race strategy, it's different fuel strategy, tire strategies. You'll see guys on the Black Firestones and on the Reds at different times in the race.
It's a standing start now. That's all about the standing start the key there is all about like the first 20 or 30 feet off the box is where you get the most traction. Whoever kind of times that just right will have a huge advantage. So we'll see how it goes. It will be interesting. But one thing's for sure, it's going to be a tough one with the competition the way it is. Everybody's so, so close right now.
But thrilled for Honda that we're five cars in the Top Six. Those guys have been working so hard. They've been working with us on trying to make the drivability just how we need it. I'm pretty thrilled for them.
Q. Certainly not unusual for Andretti Autosport to be in the Fast Six. But how unusual was is that there were no Team Penske or Ganassi drivers?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: That's very unusual. I don't even know when the last time that happened is. But I guarantee it was a pretty long time ago. That just shows you right now the series is so tight, a tenth of a second here, half tenth there is such an impact on the outcome of your qualifying session.
If you just lock a brake here or there or miss a curve by a couple inches it could mean the difference between advancing on to the Fast Six or staying in.
Q. Also, it's the second race where Juan got off to a very rough start.
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Did he? I don't know.
Q. He hit the wall.
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Okay.
Q. Did that surprise you?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: No, a couple times I was full opposite lock just dealing with a lot of traction and oversteer. It's tough out there. The grip as well, and we're trying to put all that power down and eek out every last bit of grip. We're on the edge, so I smacked the wall earlier today in practice. Luckily it was flat. It was a flat hit, a pretty broad hit. So it hit the front and the rear at the same time. It didn't bend anything, but it's easy to do for sure.
On a street circuit, you're dealing with inches, not feet. If you make a mistake by a couple inches, it means a toe length and you're in.
Q. You've run the front from a rolling start and now you're running in the front with a standing start. Do you have a preference either way? Did you prefer it was a rolling start this year?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: I just think we should do it one way or the other. The switching back and forth I really don't understand that. But I'm the driver of the car. So they tell me how we're going to start the race and I start it that way. If the fans like the standing starts and that sells more tickets and gets more seats filled, then I'm all for it.
The one challenge with standing starts in IndyCar on street circuits is that let's compare it to Formula 1 or something where they have a football field width, we have a swimming pool size width that we're trying to avoid cars and make passes on. So it's pretty challenging to avoid a car if they have a bad start in front of you. There is not a lot of room to make evasive maneuvers, so that is the one difference.
Q. With the time so close in qualifying, when you were on your pole lap, did it feel like you found those extra tenths? Did it feel like you had a pole winning lap?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: The funny part about it is my dash started freaking out. So I had all these launch everything on the dash lit up. All the lights, everything was flashing at me just like you'd see in a launch sequence on the start of the race. I don't know where that came from. I have to talk to them about it. I had no idea if it was faster or not. I just had to go as hard as I could and hope for the best, and the last lap was good enough.
Q. Other than your championship in 2012, do you look at your victory in this race as kind of the signature win of your career?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Absolutely. I had the opportunity of a lifetime at hand with Andretti. It was the third race into the season. We didn't know if we'd have the sponsorship to continue on. All the IZOD folks were here. My mom passing just a little bit before that, and this was her favorite race. So to put it all together was a career defining moment. It was a personal moment. I've had so much history here. My wife and I met here. We got engaged here. It's definitely a special event. There is no event like it. This is definitely the template for road and street courses.
Q. On your fast lap, was there any particular part of the track that gave you the advantage? If so, where?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: It's tough to say. You know, I was consistently quick through turn 8, 9, 10, 11. What I hadn't put together yet was a lap where I was quick through 5 and 6 with the combination of those other sections being quick, and I think I put together turn 5 and 6 on that lap and that was the key to it. Probably most of it came from turn 6.
Q. I was in turn 6 watching on the last lap, you definitely carried a lot of mid corner speed through there. Talk about this morning to this afternoon, how the track conditions changed and also difference between Blacks and Reds?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Street circuit is a lot like a motocross track in many ways. It's constantly changing every outing you do because there is more and more rubber going down. So we were really struggling to keep up with it. I shouldn't say struggling. We were challenged to keep up with it and keeping a step ahead of the track is one of the arts of street course set ups.
So it rubbered in as we thought, and I thought we only missed the set up a little bit in practice. I think we got it right in qualifying, so I was pretty happy with the end result.
Q. Blacks and Reds?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Reds were amazing. It's amazing when you go in and you have tires that go a second quicker right away. It's just as a driver you love every bit of it, because it's giving you that performance you want. But Firestone has done a great job with it. They've different given us two compounds that really create some great racing. So I think we'll see a lot of comers and goers tomorrow, hopefully we're the goers comers. I don't know. Are we coming or going? I don't know. I'm going in the lead, that's all I hope I'm doing.
Q. I was wondering if you've made a choice yet on your start tires? Are we going to go red or black to start, and if you don't want to answer what you're going to do, can you give me a general idea on what you think would be best to run on to start from a standing start on?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Yeah, this is a problem we face every weekend. Either you're going to get the early satisfaction and performance out of running the Reds which give you better grip on colder temps, which is an advantage on the start, right. But then you have the Blacks that will be better over a long run. So if you want your tires to hang in there and be better on a long run as you would in the first stint, then you'd go Blacks. I don't know. We'll have to talk to the engineers about that one.
Q. Understood. But I wanted to figure out if you knew you talked about that short distance out of the box that's going to be so critical. Would the Reds be the way to go to get that little advantage at the very beginning?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Probably. I'm trying not to tell you what we're doing tomorrow. Because I would love to tell you, and then I go back to the engineer to the trailer and all the engineers just give me a hard time.
Q. Or you tell me the opposite?
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Exactly. I'll tell you the opposite. Blacks are the way to go. No, I'm not really sure. It depends on where they want to go with it. But you're on to it. You're going in the right direction.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the pole. Good luck in the race tomorrow.
RYAN HUNTER REAY: Thank you. Appreciate it.