IndyCar Mid-Ohio Friday Press Conference

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay

1st Ryan Hunter-Reay (Honda)
2nd Josef Newgarden (Chevy)
8th Graham Rahal (Honda)

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's post practice media availability. Joined now by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished fastest in today's overall practice session.

Ryan had his first-ever podium here a while back, and also has some great momentum coming from Iowa and Toronto.

Ryan, take us through your practice day and the things you're working on.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, that first podium was a bit too long ago. I guess it ages me.

Today, it was a good run. Car was good. We just made some improvements on it, made the right steps through the session, some session to session. We didn't test here a week ago, so it's nice to see we have the pace from last year, that we were able to roll in and improve from last year.

All in all, pretty good day. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. We know everybody else is going to be improving. It's amazing if you look at the P1 session times, just how close everything is. There's no margin for error. So it's going to be that way again tomorrow.

Just happy to have a nice, productive day. Look forward to another one of those tomorrow hopefully.

THE MODERATOR: I know drivers say this a lot, but you mentioned that you rate this as one of your favorite tracks. What makes this course unique and challenging and a favorite of drivers?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Not only have I been coming here since I was a kid to watch IndyCar races, but it's a track I kind of first started in racing, Formula Dodge, Skip Barber, I've always loved the layout here. I remember my first laps around here, the undulating elevation changes and the constant flow to it. It really never stops turning. Even the straights have kinks and turns in them.

It's a great all-around racetrack. It's got everything you want in it. I've enjoyed it over the years. Like you said, my first big podium here. It's been good to me, as well.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Ryan.

Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: First, you have to get the car to your liking, right? You're looking at the tradeoff braking deep enough, then coming off the brake at the right time. This place is very sensitive to that, coming off the brake and getting on the throttle. If you get on the throttle a little bit too early, you induce too much understeer, the corner is done. It's that little window where you're transitioning from brake to throttle, getting the car set up just right for that. It's pretty tricky to get. When it does happen, it's a lot of fun.

Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, we had the pole here in 2013. I think we missed the track record by a couple hundredths of a second. At the time I knew it was a really good lap. I thought it was going to be a track record as well. A little disappointed we missed it by this much.

I've had some pretty good times around here in qualifying. In a racecar, you never have the perfect lap. You always think about, This could have been a little bit different. Could have had a degree or two of steering out here. Come off the brake a little bit there. That's just the way it is. It's the nature of the sport.

Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think we had a pretty good baseline to start. We just rolled off from there. You know, so, you always have a little bit of a concern when you don't test at the track and some others do, that you're going to roll off… But, yeah, started off, had a good baseline.

Q. Ryan, for those of us who saw you dominate the Indy 500 and a few other races, kind of shocked to see you're 13th in the standings. How do you assess your whole season, just the way it's gone?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's been really frustrating, you know. Guys talk about bad luck all the time. You look at our season, there's been a lot of it. Just unfortunate circumstances, electrical problems. You know, Indy, whatever that was. Just been one thing after another.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]ut we've had some good performances. Been on the podium a couple times. Had some strong races. The pace has been there at times. Hopefully we can roll this weekend into one of those.

THE MODERATOR: We'll welcome in Josef Newgarden, who finished second fastest today in practice.

Josef, you had some very strong performances on permanent road courses this season so far, winning at Barber, finishing second at Road America. Your thoughts on today's practice session and your goals heading into the weekend?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, I think we had a pretty good session. Fun driving the PPG car. My first time driving it. Simon had a lot of good luck in it last year. I think he won three races in this car. I'm excited to drive it. Looks good. Feels fast.

We were quick in the first session, too. We ended up seventh. But this track is such a game of when you run, you know, where in the tire life you are at what stage of the session.

Track just keeps getting quicker and quicker as you run. You got to kind of be the last man standing here almost. I think that's going to be the case tomorrow in qualifying. You got to try and time everything as best you can, be the last person across the line.

For us, yeah, I think we've had some good success this year on road courses. We probably could have had even more success at a couple other places that didn't fully materialize. But I think we're there, thereabouts.

I think the whole group at Team Penske is fast. We have to make sure to stay on top of it as always and not let something good slip away. We have good cars this weekend. We have to try to capitalize on that.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: There's times I like it. I think, for sure, when you're changing teams, it's probably come at a good time for me. I'm trying to learn Team Penske and the way they operate. It's been helpful trying to figure things out. We haven't qualified super well on road or street courses, at least not getting poles. I think it's been helpful to try to learn their philosophies.

There's other times where you don't really want it because people are far behind. You don't want them to catch up. That's how I felt in the past.

I guess I'm kind of mixed on it. In some cases it helps, in some cases you don't want it.

Q. Ryan, what would it mean to get a win here, not just for you but for all of Andretti?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It would mean a lot, obviously, for sure. With all the frustration of the season, it would be really nice to have that, you know, kind of momentum, season changer.

Last year was the first time in my career I didn't win a race in a season. We definitely want to get back to it. That's the only reason why we're in business. Goes without saying, I think.

Q. How does your speed in practice translate into qualifying? How important is qualifying at a track like this?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: This place, like Josef mentioned, it's always going faster. If you're staying at your performance from Friday, you're going to be behind on Saturday. You have to keep pushing. You have to keep evolving the racecar. It's going to go faster.

What we did today is not going to be good enough for tomorrow. Like a brand-new, clean sheet of paper tomorrow. Everybody starts all over again. The series is so tight that if you don't continue to move forward on setup, on your driving, you're going to fall behind tomorrow.

Q. Josef, how do you guard against, particularly here, an ill-timed yellow? How do you plan for that?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know. I mean, it depends on where you qualify, right? I think that changes your strategy. Maybe that helps you or hurts you. I think in Toronto, it was probably a blessing qualifying seventh because, you know, our strategy was to come in early. We just happened to catch a yellow at the right point. I still think we had good potential without it. But that always just makes your day a lot easier.

So I don't know. I don't think there's really a good recipe for it. You either get lucky on the right days or you don't. You qualify first up here, it is always good to qualify on the pole. Maybe you just catch a bad yellow. Qualifying 10th was right thing that day. But I have no idea how you guard against it.

It's definitely been an interesting topic. It would be nice — I think definitely in the past, I've always preferred having the yellows because it gives you an opportunity if you're not strong one weekend. I think definitely when I suffered more inconsistently from track to track with performance, it was nice to be able to rely on potential yellows to help you.

Now it feels like this year we're more consistently just fast everywhere, so you don't really want them. I think there's a different opinion whether you're at the front or back of the grid.

It would be cool if we could go back to open pit scenario somehow. The rules are what they are right now. How you safeguard against them, I don't think you can. You're either lucky or you're not.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I knew when I saw Tony I did. I didn't know when I was in the pits. Tim all of a sudden got real quiet, real qualm. He was like, Hey, everybody, take your time.

What are you talking about, man?

We needed to have a good pit stops, a good out lap. He got quiet or calm.

I was kind of confused. I came out of the pits and saw Tony. I was like, Okay, this is going to be good.

Yeah, it's nice when it happens, for sure.

Q. Josef, lately has it gotten to be a big surprise every time you show up at the shop because this week now Ryan Blaney is a teammate, team is going to have three Cup cars, you have a sports car program going on? Is it almost like the changes that are going on back at the shop are almost a big surprise to you to keep up with?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't know if it's a surprise. But you're right, there's a lot going on. I go in there pretty much every day. I spend a lot of time with the pit crews, NASCAR and IndyCar. You always hear what's going on on both sides of the shop. It's never ending. With the sports cars, now NASCAR expanding to three cars, what they're doing with the Wood Brothers, it's non-stop action at the shop.

I don't know if it's a surprise, but it's fun to be a part of it. It's definitely cool being a part of Team Penske and everything they've got going on.

Q. Ryan, you're as no nonsense as they come. How have you been able to enhance your calm or stay cool even though it's been a frustrating time the last few years?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We had a really frustrating beginning to '15. That was the first time in my career, I felt like I was in a really good car, but we were upside down, you know what I mean? Setup is everything. Changing over with the aero kit. It was a horrible weekend. Three-quarters of the season was absolutely terrible just to keep my head in line. Then we went out and won two races before the end of the season.

That year taught me a lot. Just trying to stay with it. I know when we have the right package, I'll be there, I'll be ready for it. I'll be right at the front. It's just, you know, we've had the right package this year and things have just kept us…

What are you going to do about Indy? I knew I had a great car to compete for the win, but two years in a row where it was taken out of our control. What are you going to do? It's racing. You keep on.

I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world that I get to do this for a living. I'm not going to get down in the dumps about everything. Every weekend I come out and do this again. I feel like a kid. I feel like I get to do the best thing in the world. It's a dream job.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: New Zealand (laughter).

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: What is he, 37? I think he's extremely underappreciated. I think he's a legend for what he is he's accomplished. I don't want to say that too much because I'm racing against him every weekend.

It's been amazing what he's been able to do. And through the eras of IndyCar racing, this is the tightest it's ever been. The data shows that. From P1 to P last, whatever that may be, this is the tightest IndyCar has ever been. To be consistent nowadays, it seems to be even harder.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, you think of him as a threat in a good way for him. You know, there's certain people within the series that you go, Well, they're always a threat. Whether they're fast or they're not fast on a weekend, they're always a threat. He's one of those guys. He's always going to be a threat. If he's P10 on the charts in practice, he's still going to be a threat. He's just one of those phenomenal drivers you can't count out.

Q. Josef, Simon needed a year to really assimilate to Penske. You've already won two races. What's happened for you this year jumping into the Penske car?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think we're still learning. Just us on the 2 car, we're figuring things out. We haven't had a perfect year by no means, but we've had a good very good year, for sure. We've had races where I feel confident that we can absolutely win, and we've done that a couple times.

The good thing about it is, every weekend we show up for, I feel like we can win the race. Doesn't matter if it's a road course, street course, oval, just always feel confident we're going to be able to win the race.

I think that speaks volumes to where we're at as a group, Team Penske as a whole, then the 2 car in general, with me coming in, being a new addition.

We're still gelling, though. There's been weekends, moments where inexperience together has hurt us. It only seems to get better week in and week out. I hope that bodes well for the future. If we keep up the momentum we have, and even get better, I hope that's going to be the case the rest of this year and into further seasons.

THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by Graham Rahal, driving the No. 15 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Graham is the 2015 winner here at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, also finished second fastest in this morning's practice session.

Graham, take us through this morning's practice, things that you noticed, things you'll work on later today to prepare for tomorrow's qualifying.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, this morning was good for us to go out there. To have that pace right away was nice. Obviously we didn't test here. I know some of the other teams did. But for us to be in the ballpark was good. See how this thing develops over the weekend.

We're struggling a little bit with a couple balance issues that have been for whatever reason consistent for us this year. They're kind of things, you know, corner entry problems, things like that, that we've struggled with across the board. So hopefully we can figure it out here in the next session or two.

But, yeah, I mean, it's great to be here at Mid-Ohio. It's nice to be back home, just see all the hometown fans, feel the support. I'm excited for practice this afternoon and obviously the weekend.

THE MODERATOR: We all know how special this event is to you. What do you remember from 2015 when you got that win? I imagine there has to be a little bit, maybe if not extra pressure to win, at least extra desire to win.


THE MODERATOR: Getting that monkey off your back.

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal

GRAHAM RAHAL: For me, I said it at the time, and I still feel that, had I won and accomplished a lot in my career but never won here, I think it would have been something that I would have regretted greatly or been disappointed in. So to get that off my back was nice.

But, you know, we've had good runs here the last few years. So the way I look at is we have to try to find a way to do that once again here this weekend and put it all together.

I fully expect the Penskes to once again kind of be the standard. But we're going to give it our best shot to try to defeat them here on home turf.

It was great to win here, special moment for me. It's hard to put into words. I think about it a lot. What I think about the most, you know, nowadays is obviously standing next to me on the podium was J. Wil, who I was thinking about just the other day, that moment, that time with him. So it was just a great experience for me.

Hopefully we can keep that going, get Steak 'n Shake another win here in central Ohio really, Ohio in general, build upon the momentum that we really picked up the last handful of races.

You guys have seen it, anybody that has followed the sport has seen it, I think we've been one of the cars, probably the most consistent car, over the last eight races or so. We got to try to figure out a way to keep that going here this weekend.

THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the permanent road courses have been something you needed to work on heading into this race. What are some things you and the team have been discussing as you enter the event?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think one of the big things we've struggled with this year is to try to put our thumb on the pulse as far as the tire is concerned. Fortunately for us, here the tire is the same as last year, identical, same code and everything. The alternate is not, but the primary is. So that should help us at least know from last year to this year we shouldn't need to change much.

Having said that, a lot of places we've gone to, we have really struggled to figure out what the car wants. We haven't had that big of a struggle here so far today. Was I super pleased in practice today? No. The balance was a little off. But we managed to put in a good lap there and get through it. That's been something we've struggled with this year. Hopefully we can get past that.

Obviously we have Watkins Glen, Sonoma, a couple others coming up that will be important to understand the tire as well. So hopefully it doesn't bite us too hard as the year goes on.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Graham.

Q. You said you had good runs here. In principle, when you have a good car here, can you go out with the same setup like you did before?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Should be able to. But I think what we've found in a lot of places this year, this is what I was talking about with the tire, a lot of places we've gone this year we've run the same setups and we struggled. Road America. I mean, Road America last year, we were great, really strong. We just didn't have the right aero kit. Obviously this year the engine is so much better, we thought we just pretty much would go there and have some minor tweaks and the engine would make up a big difference. We were awful. Yeah, we qualified in the top six, but we struggled a lot.

So, you know, conceptually yes, you should be able to translate it over. But then you have the aging of the surfaces, are the tires really the same, is there a slight compound or slight construction. What might be a little bit different, you know, that maybe we're not taking into consideration, things like that.

But here, so far, it seems to have translated fairly well. This afternoon you're going to see everybody run reds. That could get interesting to see what happens in that scenario because the red is a different tire from last year. So we'll see.

Q. You're home. When you're not thinking about business, how much do you think about where you've been? How much do you take stock in where you're at? How much do you think about what you still want to accomplish?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, here is the truth, man. This is something I've recognized in myself recently that I'm trying to change. I don't stop thinking about business. I need to try to disconnect a little bit. Business isn't, for me, just racing any more. You have the dealerships, our performance line, everything else that we're doing. There's a lot of stuff going on. I don't take enough time to really maybe sit down and think in a different way.

But, you know, I mean, I'm proud of where we've gotten to over the last few years. In the start, obviously from a professional standpoint, my career, things were a little bit of a rocky road. But I'm very proud of where we are today. I think that we have a lot to look forward to in the future.

People forget I'm 28. People think I'm a lot older because I've been around a long time. But really, you know, I'm still pretty young. I feel like I have a long career left in this sport. I'm excited for the team that we've assembled.

Yesterday I spent a brief amount of time, 20, 30 minutes with Coach Meyer down at OSU. I thought it was interesting. One of the things we talked about, I said, Do you feel like you're going to dominate this year?

He said, I never feel that way.

I said, But you guys have all the talent in the world.

At that point it hit me, which is just what we've experienced, sometimes it's not about having all the talent in the world, it's getting everybody to work together well. That's what we have as a team here.

I think I'm very proud of that, proud to be a part of it. I think that the future for our organization, for myself, and for all of our guys is pretty bright. So I'm excited for what's to come.

Q. It's one thing to look at the number the drivers are behind each other, the total number of drivers within that group, but how wide open do you think the championship is with five to go?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's pretty open. I mean, obviously with the double points last race, that can throw things completely for a loop.

I want to say I'm not going to even really sit and worry about it. Toronto was a pretty big burn for us, unfortunately, from where we should have been. So I pretty much just determined I have to go out there and just do the absolute best that we can.

Obviously when four of the guys you're competing against are Penskes, and the fifth is Dixon, it makes life pretty tough. That's a pretty strong crop of guys right there. And obviously the Penskes, you know, Helio has been on his game this year, you have to give him a lot of credit. Pagenaud has been good. Power has been good. Newgarden is right there with them.

I totally expect it's going to be a tough road, you know, to the finish here. But I still feel like it's wide open, but at the same time we need to win. So this weekend will be a good opportunity. If we can win races, then the rest will take care of itself. I think that's a fact.

We have some races coming up where I feel like the Honda should be very strong. I mean, Pocono should be very good, right? You if look at Indianapolis, I think we should be strong there.

We'll see. But it still is open. It still is open.

Q. (No microphone.)
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, the short oval will add a different element, but that will certainly help the Penskes a lot. They will be very fast there. We know that the short oval aero kit is our great weakness, so they will be very hard to beat there.

Q. Looking at the race weekend where you have Cooper, Firestone, Pirelli rubber down, does that throw an interesting mix in your setup or the same as last year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It sure does. It definitely throws a different mix out there. As you get these guys running, then you got all the feeder series, the Mazda Road to Indy is out there blasting around. You get a lot of different types of tires.

But in general I would say, you know, as long as we continue to put rubber down, lay rubber down, it should help us just in general. It does make it slippery at times. It does change the track at times. And this track is very sensitive, always has been, for whatever reason, to heat. When you get rubber like this down, if it gets real hot and sunny, which fortunately it looks like we're going to have a really nice weekend here weather-wise, not too hot, but if it gets really hot and sunny, it will get slippery. We'll see how it goes, but we've all raced here long enough to get the flow of that.

Q. IMSA announced they're coming back next year. IndyCar is off. Would you do a one-off?
GRAHAM RAHAL: There's just not opportunities any more. Would I be interested? Sure. But there's just not a lot of opportunities unless you got a check stapled to your forehead, and I don't. For me, that becomes a different challenge.

Would I love to get out here and drive? Sure. If there's an opportunity comes up, you know, in the NSX or anything else, maybe it would be of interest.

But at the same time, you know, when all these guys have off weekends, I don't. Get an off weekend might not be a bad thing. With Courtney's schedule, our clashes and stuff, it's pretty busy, man. To add more to that makes life a little bit trickier. We'll see.

I love racing here. I love racing in IMSA. We'll see.

Q. What were your thoughts on the new car, what you saw in the test? Jay mentioned we'll see a windscreen on those cars.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Jay has been working on that for a while. I don't know that we all give Jay enough credit for finally pointing this thing in the right direction. You know, I mean, personally I felt over the last, you know, 10 years the cars have just gotten progressively, in my opinion, uglier. Now we're finally getting back to what an IndyCar should be like.

I salute Jay, Bill Pappas a lot, Tino, that team, for what they did. The response that I'm hearing from Juan and Oriol, having driven it, is they were both blown away by how good it was out of the box.

We've all tested and we've all driven new cars. A lot of times it's not pretty. When we got this one for the first time in 2012, this chassis, it was awful to drive. We had to change a lot to adapt to that. So now all of a sudden you get rid of the pods. That moves a lot of weight around. The floor of the car is different. The wings are different. All this other stuff.

For them to go out and feel as good as they felt about it on day one speaks volumes about the job that IndyCar has done here.

So, you know, I'm definitely excited to get in it. I love the looks of it. I think the road course car is even sexier, which I think will be here this weekend or is here, whatever. That's going to be even better.

But the biggest thing is it's going to race better, 100%, 100%, on the ovals, it will race a lot better, particularly short ovals, than what we currently have. That will be a very good thing.

Q. (No microphone.)
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, the windscreen is a good thing, if we can get it. I've tried to explain this to all my friends in racing, the drag racers are like, Man, put a windscreen on there. It doesn't really work that way. It's been quite a process.

Jay has been working on this since Justin's accident. I know he's been pretty quiet about that. But the key is clarity, distortion, size. You know, there's a lot of elements that go into this. I think that's what people forget. I think we saw that with Vettel recently, who tried it. The shape of the windscreen, you could tell by looking at it that the distortion would be bad.

That's one of the biggest keys, when you're racing here, going into turn one, you're looking out by the Honda sign as you turn in. You're way ahead. When you're looking out of the side of a windscreen, if it's distorted, it can be a problem. When you go on an oval, can be a be problem.

Drag racing is very different. They shouldn't be looking anywhere but straight. It becomes a simpler process to have that clear visual straight ahead. For us it's not.

I think the windscreen is the right way to go. I personally don't think that the halo — still there's a lot of open air area, right? I don't know how that is a solution. But for us, you know, the windscreen, just takes time to get it right. We can't just slap it on this thing. You have to find a way to properly mount it. It's got to be strong. It has to withstand and accident like Josef had at Dallas last year, whatever else we've seen.

They're working hard on it. If it comes, be excited. The bigger thing for me with the new car that I'm more excited about, I told somebody this yesterday, is that the side pods are forward and they're higher. The biggest concern I've ever had in these things isn't getting hit in the head with something, which maybe it should be, but it's more there's a lot of side area right here that's exposed for the legs to get hit.

If you've ever spun mid track, somebody T-boned you, it would be an ugly deal. Not that it wouldn't be in any other case, but now side pod's going forward quite a bit, it's a little bit higher, got the nice new carbon crash structure on the side, that will help a lot. I'm excited about that.

THE MODERATOR: Graham, thank you very much. Good luck today.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you.

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