Ryan Hunter-Reay teleconference 2008-06-18

An interview with Ryan Hunter-Reay Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript THE MODERATOR: Our next guest is Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ryan, before I even introduce you and get some background, I have to thank you because I know you're having...

An interview with Ryan Hunter-Reay
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript

THE MODERATOR: Our next guest is Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ryan, before I even introduce you and get some background, I have to thank you because I know you're having your own version of planes, trains and automobiles today. We sure appreciate you taking the extra effort to hook in today.

Ryan is in his first full season in the IndyCar Series after taking over the seat of the No. 17 Team Ethanol car midway through last. Despite the late start, he won the Bombardier Lear Jet Rookie-of-the-Year honors, with three top-10 finishes in six starts. This year Ryan has three top-10 finishes in the first seven races, including a run from 20th to sixth in the Indianapolis 500.

Ryan, with a little luck and a lack of misfortune, you would have had a couple more solid results this season, especially at Texas where you were running third with six laps to go. Tell us a little bit about the season so far and the progress you've made to be competitive week in and week out, especially since Rahal Letterman Racing is a one-car team.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I mean, I couldn't be happier with the way we've been moving forward. Really, the whole Ethanol IndyCar team at Rahal Letterman Racing, we've blended really well with chemistry. Since I came on the team last year, I've been working well with these guys. I really enjoy showing up to the racetracks, working with these guys. It's been an honor.

Not only did we get Rookie of the Year last year, we won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year this year, which with that group of rookies over a full month at that racetrack was a pretty big feather in our cap.

Like you said, that's pretty cool. But the biggest thing is we've been running in the top six. We've been there. We've shown that we're a threat at the front, and even more so at Texas. Unfortunately, it didn't all add up with those last five laps.

THE MODERATOR: Before you ran the IndyCar Series, most of your racing was on road courses. This year you've been really strong on ovals. Has that surprised you? What has caused you or helped you adapt to ovals so quickly?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, really, I have the record for most laps led in Champ Car with 250 at Milwaukee. I won at Milwaukee in Champ Car. We raced three or four ovals a year there. Then in Atlantics, I dominated on ovals there also. I had quite a bit of oval experience coming in.

But definitely the IndyCar Series and the way these Dallaras move around in traffic is a different feeling, that takes a bit of getting used to. I think I've come to grips with it. The best part is we've tuned the setup of the car around my driving style. That's really come out, I think.

It's neat to see that working. You know, we had a top seven at Homestead. We were P4 in St. Pete. Had top six at Motegi, top six at Indy. We just need to keep doing that. I have no doubt our breakout performance will come here real soon. Like I said, we had it there at Texas. Could have, should have, would have.

THE MODERATOR: With two short tracks coming up ahead in Iowa and Richmond, with 27 cars expected on both, it's a lot more traffic than we've had at those two tracks in the past. Talk about your expectations and your concerns for both races, especially considering there's going to be heavy traffic in a hurry at both places.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's going to be interesting, that's for sure. I know one thing, it will be a great race to watch. How it is in the car, I'm not sure yet. These tracks are definitely strong. Smaller than tracks I've been to in an IndyCar. A bit of a learning process for me as well.

That said, these car count figures are unreal. The fact we show up to these racetracks with 26, 28 cars each weekend, it's an exciting time in the IndyCar Series. That's what I'm thrilled about. I said at the Indy 500 banquet, I'm proud to be an IndyCar driver right now. It's an exciting time for open-wheel racing in America. It's great to be a part of it, and be an American driver in that mix.

THE MODERATOR: This is almost a second home race for you, Ethanol sponsorship. Is it safe to say this probably, next to Indy, is the most important event of the year for you?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, there's quite a few important ones. But this one is a home race for us. If we had a home race, it would be this Iowa race. I've been looking forward to it for a while. The Ethanol folks have been telling me about it for a while. I've gotten so much support, fan mail, emails, every which way you can think of, about this race. So I'm really looking forward to it.

It's a shame with the flooding and everything like that. I'm on my way up there today to go up and do a couple PR activities, then try to help out a bit with the aid there in Cedar Rapids. The airlines have stopped me once again.

I'm really looking forward to the weekend. This is what it's about, being an Ethanol IndyCar driver, going to Iowa in the ethanol-sponsored race. It will be pretty cool. I'll take it in.

THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up to questions for Ryan.

Q: Has the rising price of petroleum fuels made it easier for you to deliver the message of ethanol?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, the rising costs in fuel has made it easier to explain the food complication with ethanol, yes. In that way it has, for sure. A lot of people, they don't really understand why, Well, if ethanol is not this foreign-made fuel and it's cheaper, why are the prices the same for an E10, an E85, cheaper? That's because ethanol doesn't mandate the costs on the actual fuel. The gas stations do. Those two switches there have been the main thing.

What people don't understand is the biggest reason that the rise in food cost is because of fuel. Just like everything else, if you want to have some furniture delivered in California, it's going to cost you a lot more now.

Q: Your experience is on road courses. You came from Champ Car. With the road courses coming up, is that something you look forward to, somewhere you'll really be able to shine? There's a lot of people saying the Champ Car teams are going to be tough. Maybe you will be one up there with the Champ Car teams. Do you still kind of consider yourself a Champ Car driver with them?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: That's a good question. I don't really consider myself a Champ Car driver. But, yeah, I was in that circuit for, gosh, four years. So, yeah, I'm used to the road courses. What I enjoy most as an IndyCar driver is the mix. I love going to a road course, then to an oval, then to a street circuit, then to a short oval, then to a road course, then a superspeedway. That's what I like the most. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps the teams on their toes. It makes for really interesting racing over the span of the season. That's what I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to that bouncing back and forth. You have to change your driving style from track to track. I think that, the changes, will suit me.

Of course, I'm looking forward to the road courses. I really enjoy driving on the road courses. But, you know, as you can tell, last weekend at Texas, I really enjoyed that, as well.

Q: I talked to Danica and Hideki yesterday at Richmond. They were testing. I asked them about the short ovals coming up, Iowa and Richmond. What is your opinion of those? They compared them to road courses, kind of a driver's track. Do you agree with that?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I wish I could go -- I've never been to either of them, so I can't really say. All I can say is that Milwaukee, compared with the other ovals, it is the most like a road course because there's a bit more hand wheel going on, you're wheeling the car a little bit more, off the power, back on the power, sometimes braking. There's a little bit more of that stuff going on. That's how I think you can liken the road courses to Richmond.

I don't have experience there, so I really don't want to comment too much.

Q: These next few races, are you really looking forward to being kind of under the microscope here? It really comes down to the driver in these races. Is that a challenge you look forward to and welcome?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: At Iowa and Richmond?

Q: Iowa, Richmond, then the road course after that at Watkins Glen.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Like at Iowa and Richmond, I think experience is going to pay off a little bit there in the first couple sessions, maybe in the qualifying. But, yeah, it's going to level up the playing field a little bit, just like the road courses. The road courses, the competition is going to be so deep. All the Champ Car guys are going to be right there. The IndyCar guys, Scott Dixon, myself, Tony Kanaan, Helio (Castroneves), all these guys are going to be right there. St. Pete was hot and heavy on the competition. I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited.

Q: With all the talk of Danica Patrick, the Honda Formula One test drive, would you be interested in taking the Formula One for a drive?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Would I be interested in taking a Formula One test drive? Is that what you're asking?

Q: Yes.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely, I would be. Why not?

Q: Considering you like the road courses as much as you do, you wouldn't have the chance of a Formula One on an oval, how do you think you would feel in a Formula One car?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think I'd feel fine. I've driven all the Champ Cars on the road courses and the IndyCar on the road courses. I think if you have a good driver, if the driver is talented enough naturally to do it, you got four tires and a motor, I think the rest comes naturally. Yeah, I would love to do it. It would be a blast.

Q: I was going to ask you about the paddle shift changes in the IRL. Coming from the Champ Car, the old stick shift, something you would have experienced before.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We used the paddle shifters now. Paddle shifting is much easier than anything else. The transition to going to a paddle shifter is a no-brainer. If you've been driving paddle shifting for a while, all of a sudden you have to go drive an H-pattern gearbox, that's the more difficult thing.

Q: How do you actually feel about computer systems, game stations? A lot of Formula One drivers that haven't been to specific tracks, they can get out there and try it out on one of these consoles, learn the track that way. Would you ever test anything that way?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I actually did a little bit of that last year before I went to -- what was I racing? I went to race Watkins Glen in a Daytona Prototype. I got in a simulator in California, in L.A. I drove the exact car I was going to drive on the exact track I was going to drive, although they were three thousand miles away from each other. It was pretty neat. It helped out a lot.

Those machines are very expensive. I don't have the financial capability to put one in my house. But if I ever have a chance to drive one, I'm all for it. I love it. They're not readily available to use.

Q: This is the second season with this team. What would you say is the most challenging venue this series has to offer that you've experienced so far?

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't think I could put my finger on just one. I'll tell you what, Indianapolis did live up to Indianapolis. It lived up to the hype. You know, I got there and I thought, well, this is going to be like, you know, a big Homestead track or something like that. And it wasn't. You know, the car moves around a lot in the race. Straights are so long. The corners feel like they have almost no bank to them when you get into them because you're going so fast. It really lives up to it. I was really impressed with Indianapolis. I thought it was going to be a little bit more straightforward than it was. It surely wasn't. That was definitely a challenge.

Then you have, you know, these big superspeedways like Texas, stuff like that. That defines its own type of racing, which is very challenging, where you have to really play your cards right over a race distance. Then we have these road courses, which is just flat out amazing on the competition side, how close everybody is.

They have their own differences and difficulties. But none of them -- I wouldn't say Indy is more difficult than driving a full race at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. I wouldn't say that. They're different in their own ways.

THE MODERATOR: Ryan, we sure appreciate you taking the time to call in, especially during these tough travel circumstances. Wish you best of luck with your connections and best of luck this weekend in Iowa.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you. I appreciate it.

THE MODERATOR: That concludes our teleconference.

-credit: irl

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Danica Patrick