Q&A with Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Rahal

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi – Andretti Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay – Andretti Honda
Graham Rahal – Rahal Honda

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Alex, this is a track you finished well at this time last year in the inaugural event. Take us through what are some things that you like about this track and the challenges it presents to drivers.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: I think the big thing is just the fans. It was obviously the return of the Verizon IndyCar Series to St. Louis and Gateway last year, and it was an amazing reception and one that really blew us all away, and I think that's really down to the track and the city and the effort that they put into this event. So any time we as drivers get to come and do our thing in front of people that are that passionate, it's very, very special.

We're looking forward to getting things underway, obviously if Mother Nature cooperates, and putting on a great show for everyone tomorrow night where the weather looks awesome.

THE MODERATOR: Ryan, you were also on track for a good finish in this event last year before unfortunately your day ended a little bit early, but you came back here for a test last month. What are some things you learned from that test to prepare for this event?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Just kind of coming to grips with the new car, the new aero kit, and figuring out what this team and these drivers need from it to be more competitive than we were last year here. I think we had a pretty good test. It was across the board, I think all the drivers left somewhat happy. We know some areas that we'd like to improve, but it's always good coming back here, like Alex said. Last year the fan reception was unbelievable, the promotion was first class, everybody did a great job with it, and the results really showed. Hopefully we can go out and put on a good show tomorrow night.

Q. With the new package, what portion of this track is the more difficult part now because I know last year you could be flat 3, 4. Can you follow into there now or how is that going to run?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, you can follow into there. I think that the issue we're going to see today and more tonight when we run in a pack and we run in groups is the challenge is going to be trying to keep similar kind of to what we had at Pocono, I guess. That's what the guys tell me at least. Trying to keep the front end under you in traffic. It washes out, you lose the front, you lose that run, and then you take the whole lap to get back up under the gearbox of the guy in front here going into 1. I think that will be the limiting factor for us, so hopefully we can find a way around that.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I mean, I don't really have much to add to that, honestly. When we were here, it was only the four of us, so there wasn't really much group running that we did. But I would imagine it would be kind of similar road blocks that we run into that we have seen this year, and it's just kind of waiting on the front if you do have a run and hopefully you can keep the front end under you.

Q. Ryan, you said you had a good test here before. I guess maybe the weather conditions were different. Can you use something from the test for these changing weather conditions?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think generally what we found from the test we can apply here today, yeah. The conditions now are cooler than what we had at our test, so we're going to have a little bit more grip potentially, but race conditions tomorrow, it'll be similar to our test. So yeah, I think we can pull forward what we moved and found at the test and apply it. Like we mentioned, though, I think it's just a matter of trying to get the front to work in traffic will be our big hurdle.

Q. The starts of races the last couple weeks have been pretty sketchy and they were sketchy last year here, as well. Why is that, and is there anything you can do to kind of make sure everybody gets through the start of that race safely and comfortably?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don't agree with that at all. I think the starts have been okay. I think if you look at Pocono, I think Will proved very clearly that he maintained his speed and guys in the back were trying to get a run. You know, I think Kyle and the race direction has done a very good job with explaining what he wants to do and his parameters for that, and I don't think there's going to be any change.

Q. Ryan, you're still battling for the championship even though it's a bit of an uphill climb for you right now. At what point do you start playing wing man for Alex to help him win the championship?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: As he turns his seat to look at my response. We're definitely still in the fight, at least for the top three. If the championship — I'd have to win from here out and these guys have a really bad few weeks, no doubt. It's still possible, but it's a far stretch. We're concentrating on just getting race wins. That's what it's been all year, and that's what we're focused on. Obviously Alex and I have worked really well in the past together. We always have. If there's anything that we can do in the final stretch to bring the Andretti Autosport team back to being champions here in the Verizon IndyCar Series, that's our ultimate goal.

We had a pretty good run going this season and the past couple weeks have been tough for us, no doubt, but we still have some good strong races ahead, and hopefully we can both make a run for it.

Q. Alex, what's it like, if it does get in a position where you have a Ryan Hunter-Reay as your wing man?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don't know that that's —

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Bump draft and shake and bake and all those things?

ALEXANDER ROSSI: All of those things, yes. I've learned everything — I would say the majority of what I've learned in this series has come from Ryan, so I attest a lot of things, especially on ovals, to what he's explained to me and taught me and demonstrated. I think we work together, as you said, and we're both fighting for race wins and working together to try and make that happen. I still need to win races. Scott is not — as I've said many times, he's not going to have a bad weekend, so we're still quite a ways out, and the only way to close that gap is to win races. We're not looking at wing man scenarios right now, we're just both trying to build fast race cars to go win races.

Q. Alex, what kind of help can you and do you expect from your teammates as the championship fight comes down? What can you reasonably expect?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don't know. I haven't been in this position before. I mean, I think that Marco and Zach were awesome for me in Pocono. I come up to lap them, and they made my life really easy. Unfortunately Josef was right in front of them, so he made my life difficult to try and help Will. I think that that's really the extent of what you're going to see; if someone is having an off day, they'll try and make your life as painless as possible. But in terms of anything beyond that, I don't really have anything scenarios to answer that question or previous experiences to fall back upon. He's the one that's won a championship, not me.

Q. With the tires that Firestone has brought, they've brought a softer right tire. I'm wondering with the banking here if you expect the tires to degrade and whether that's going to be an issue, like would it change your pit stop strategy coming in sooner than your fuel is used up?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't see that scenario occurring at the moment. Something unforeseen could come up, but the tire was very consistent, very strong through the run. So yeah, the fall-off that we experienced was very little. I don't know. I don't see that coming, but maybe with hotter temps and running in traffic and sliding around a little bit more, we could fall into a scenario where we get some tire deg that could be an issue, but as of now that wouldn't be my guess.

Graham Rahal

Press Conference

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and continue with this afternoon's media availabilities here at Gateway Motorsports Park. Joined now by Graham Rahal, driving the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda for the team this weekend. Graham, didn't get to test here last month as some other teams did, so I know you're hoping to learn a lot from this upcoming practice session, but you feel like your short oval package is pretty strong this year; tell us more about what you're hoping to learn from practice today.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, I hope we have a good weekend. Last weekend was a bummer. We've had a couple opportunities that have slipped for us this year, so we just — I think we just need a good solid weekend, a couple weekends here to finish the year. Our short oval package should be okay. We were pretty strong at Iowa in the race, Takuma and I both. Iowa is a different animal than here at Gateway. It's a lot smoother, it's a lot longer track, obviously. It provides a little bit of a different challenge, tighter Turn 1, a little less banking, all those sorts of things, but we should be pretty good.

The hopes are high. The expectations are high. Like I said, we have three weeks left to get a win this year. We'd be pretty disappointed to leave the season without a victory, so we're pretty determined to make it happen.

THE MODERATOR: On that note, with only three races remaining in this season, where would you put yourself right now in terms of how the season has gone thus far, what are some things aside from a win that you're hoping to gain before the season closes out.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, yeah, it's no secret, I've talked about it a lot. I think that we've been pretty average all year in a lot of categories, and so I definitely want to see some improvement as we go into this off-season, give us something to be excited about, give us a little bit of something to be motivated going through the winter months. Our guys have worked awfully hard this year. I've seen some good improvement out of the team on the pit stops. Those guys have done a great job on the averages throughout the year, so I'm proud of them for that. But clearly I've made some mistakes this year. We've not been the best as far as chassis setup at a lot of places this year. We've put ourselves behind the 8-ball a lot. We've had to battle a ton each and every race weekend I would say. There really hasn't been one that's gone seamlessly.

With all that being said, we've got three weeks to turn that around. We're going to go test at Portland next week. We saved a test day for Sonoma the week after, which is why we didn't test here. So hopefully Takuma and I can find a way to improve, both of us, and put us in a better position to finish this thing off.

THE MODERATOR: We've had several drivers come into this weekend complimenting the event and how it went last year. What are your thoughts on the energy level not only here at Gateway but moving into a Saturday night event.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's a lot of fun. You know, clearly today puts a little damper on things, but in general, Curtis, Chris, everybody at this track has done an amazing job. I was fortunate to do a media day here. I know Takuma was here. I think maybe Alex came or Charlie came, somebody came. But they've had a lot of people through all the media places around here. There's a lot of buzz. Everybody enjoyed last year tremendously. St. Louis is a great sports town, and this is another notch in their belt to have us back.

I know ticket sales were looking really good, on par with last year, which is good. The first year back, it's always going to have a huge buzz, so it's how do you continue that for the years to come, and I think they've done a great job managing that. Hopefully Mother Nature will play nice with us and we'll get to go have some fun tomorrow night.

Q. Can you address any areas or parts of the car which has to be improved technically?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think everywhere. Our chassis setups — at times — actually in the race last week, considering everything else that happened at the start, our car was good in the race, and if you look at our race pace compared to Rossi and Power, we were certainly better than Power on race pace, but Alex and I ran around for, geez, it felt like certainly 190 laps right with each other. As compared to positions 4 on down, we basically unlapped ourselves, and in some cases unlapped ourselves to those people two or three times. Areas like that, maybe we stumbled across some stuff for the race last week. But like Mid-Ohio, for instance, the car in the race was pretty evil loose. Those are areas like we shouldn't really stumble, and we hadn't been — we just weren't great. You know, as we look at development, we're very fortunate with the partners that we have. Everybody is coming back, everybody is excited. So we know what we've got going forward, and give us some time this off-season to develop further and put ourselves in a better position going forward.

Q. Temperature tomorrow is supposed to be close to 100 degrees. How slick is that going to make this track?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It'll make it slick for sure, but the nighttime falls and the track cools down and everything will be just fine. It's the same for everybody. I don't look into it too much. I just take every day as it comes to us. Today and what we get out of today is going to be a lot different than what we get out of tomorrow. This new car with the lack of aero, the downforce comparatively, it's going to throw a whole bunch of surprises at us in its own right, so we'll just see how it goes.

Q. There's been quite a few races where Sunday morning warmups have been deleted this year, and obviously this is the first year with this car. Has that been a factor in you sometimes struggling to replicate the kind of strong race day performances that we saw from you last year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think there's no doubt. We've definitely put ourselves in a little bit of a bind this year. I'm not — I'm fine at certain places with not having warmups, but I thought Pocono was a big mistake to not have a practice, and there was really no excuse for not having a practice, so that was disappointing. But places like Road America, when you have the crowd you have at Road America, you need to have a warmup. It's that simple. Trust me, I love sleeping in, but when there's 80,000 people there — I mean, when I left the bus at Road America at 8:00 a.m., it was packed. People come to see us, so you need to be on track. It's that simple. Mid-Ohio, everybody was like, where were you guys, we came here to see you guys, there was nothing going on. So that needs to probably change.

It's just too important to have us — to have these cars on track for fans to enjoy. You know, but has it hurt us this year? You know, maybe a little bit. Maybe a little bit. But I would say in a lot of places, we haven't started really on target, and so when you don't start on target, you're just chasing. You really need to show up and just be in a good spot, and then it's just fine tuning from there on out. And we haven't been in that spot yet this season.

You know, let's hope it will turn around. We've got, like I said, Portland, we've got a test there. As we go on from there, Sonoma, we have a test there. So hopefully we'll be a little better off. But there's a lot of elements that go into this. We've had opportunities this year, and it just hasn't worked out, and then we've had races where we had — it should have worked out and we shot ourselves in the foot. So it's been a little bit all over the board.

I think everybody is probably just a touch frustrated with the way it's gone, and that kind of leads to more mistakes and things like that. Just going to hunker down and finish this thing off as strong as we can.

Q. Obviously last year you were doing — you were usually a one-car team. Have you found that working with Takuma, having that extra data, has been helpful, or are your driving styles so disparate that it's not —
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's helpful. I think having the data has definitely been good. You know, Takuma and I — I don't know that our driving styles are that different. I know what we're sensitive to is different. He definitely can — he's more willing to hang on to a loose car than I probably am, on an oval in particular. And so that's something that — sometimes I worry about the rear and they're not as focused on it, and so that kind of leads us astray at times. But in general Takuma has been really good for us. I think if we can manage to just make that happen for next year and keep the same group together, I think it'll help us even further. But yeah, I mean, overall it's great to have two cars. I hope, like I said, nothing changes and we can continue on down that path. For our team to have the growth and everything that we've had and experienced, it's been good. I think that we also together have been able to identify areas that we feel like we're just not that strong right now and where we need to work on and be a little bit better, so that will help us, as well.

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