IRL: Greg Ray: On the right track

IRL: Greg Ray: On the right track

With every race in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series, the standings seem to change. Who was first becomes last; last becomes first. Nowhere was that more apparent than at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night, as the Indy cars put on ...

With every race in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series, the standings seem to change. Who was first becomes last; last becomes first. Nowhere was that more apparent than at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night, as the Indy cars put on their usual dogfight on the 1.5-mile high banks.

Greg Ray.
Photo by Earl Ma.
The Bombardier 500K has never been a contest for the weak of heart; it's one of those 200-lap free-for-all events where the smartest drivers end up at the top. That's partly why Tony Kanaan made the top step of the podium after losing - by a whisker - to Al Unser Jr. last June. That's why polesitter Dario Franchitti kept his pace up and finished just .2578 seconds behind his teammate. For the IRL, that was a very big margin of victory here in Texas.

Plano, TX driver Greg Ray made a quantum leap during the Bombardier 500, coming from 15th on the 22-car grid, leading three laps and finishing seventh Saturday night, his best 2004 result to date in the #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda. Ray, who started his own team and entered the IRL's top series under the Access Motorsports name last April at Twin Ring Motegi, is currently in his second season as owner/driver.

It's not been the easiest transition for the 1999 IRL champion. Where he once drove another owner's car with only secondary thoughts about being responsible for damage, Ray now has to answer to the man in the mirror.

Ray and Access Motorsports made a decision to take on the American-built Panoz G Force chassis when no other IRL team with a Honda engine program would do so. Now he is one of five drivers using the Panoz G Force/Honda package. This team went with Honda when Toyota looked more prepared for the IRL's changed packaging in 2003; Honda won only two races last year; they have won four of five races held to date in 2004.

"Honda put a lot into the 3.5-liter for Twin Ring Motegi in Japan," Greg Ray recalled of the April 17th race. "Everybody else shifted to the 3- liter," which came on-stream for the 88th Indy 500 May 30th. "We chose Honda as our partner because their commitment to win is there. Otherwise they don't compete. They had two separate full-bore programs going [this spring] and did a fabulous job on both.

"We have had no mechanical failures since April of 2003 and how they [Honda] do it I don't know, but 7/24, they want to win."

And Greg Ray? What does he want with his IndyCar Series career? "We've made a clear point to set goals for our team. We know we have the team, the expertise and the abilities behind the wheel, but we have to do it all day in and day out. We have to get it dead-on with our competitors," Ray insisted.

Trying to keep up with his competitors is a tough call for Ray and Access Motorsports. "With 10-15% of their budgets, we do the best we can," he said in reference to Andretti Green Racing, Rahal Letterman Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Marlboro Team Penske and others. "We want to race hard and win, and we give it our best shot. We have to stay focused in this competitive world," Ray said.

Was there a "stock car mentality" at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday, Ray was asked? "I drove wheel-to-wheel and side-by-side with everybody in that race," he said. "I won't be a hypocrite about the driving last weekend. I got cut off at the bow from a driver I have lots of respect for, but we have to all take responsibility for our actions. There was nothing intentional going on out there; it was just racing.

"It could be very serious if something goes wrong, but still it was lots of fun. For the most part, everybody did a very good job" in the intense cut- and-thrust world of IndyCar Series racing.

The Bombardier 500K was "a great event for us because we could show what we're capable of. We had the car to win but you know," Ray advised, "you just can't drive through traffic. I passed more cars than anyone, came from the back to the front several times. This team is committed to racing, to performance and to our business side, making this a good finish for us."

Of course, after this week's open test at the historic Milwaukee Mile, Ray and Access Motorsports head for Richmond International Raceway, the .75- mile bullring that has been repaved since the League last raced there. "It's going to be more difficult to pass, but Richmond is a fun, fun track."

What does Ray think the League can do to increase its tally of paying clients at 16 events (and more, most likely for 2005)? "The IRL used to be about teams while NASCAR has been about drivers. We haven't gotten to that point yet. Personalities add to the sport and the character of our drivers is great. It just isn't put into places that show it yet," Ray confided.

"Once you get people into the seats to watch our races, they're going to come back again. That's been shown. The IRL is on the right track but needs support bringing in those first-time fans," he declared.

Wearing different hats as an owner/driver in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series is a challenge for Greg Ray, just as he balances his business world, his life as a husband and father. "I think if you consider the size of our team and the scope of the guys we're fight, pound-for-pound we're tough!

"We have a difficult enough time getting all our jobs done and we've learned some focal points: we need to get there each weekend and try not to waste time. We've got to give it our best shot."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Chip Ganassi
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing