There are new and different pressures on Greg Ray, the Plano TX resident who helped start his own Indy Racing League IndyCar Series team last year, Access Motorsports. It was a difficult task to combine ownership and driving, and Ray felt...
There are new and different pressures on Greg Ray, the Plano TX resident who helped start his own Indy Racing League IndyCar Series team last year, Access Motorsports. It was a difficult task to combine ownership and driving, and Ray felt stressed from the start.
Access Motorsports didn't join the IndyCar Series trail until the third race at Twin Ring Motegi, the track owned by his engine provider Honda. They started 22nd and ended up ninth, a good beginning. At the 87th Indy 500, Ray had his best finish of eighth.
In fact, Ray had his most consistent IndyCar season ever last year, since joining the IRL at Indy in 1997. Entered in 14 races, Ray failed to finish only two: at Nazareth he had gearbox failure and, two weeks later at Chicagoland, Greg crashed the team's sole tub and had to withdraw.
While his early career was laced with pole positions, Greg Ray has learned over the years that it's not necessarily where you start, it's where you finish and has worked on his consistency.
"It was tough in 2003, but we were well within our boundaries. We had a different game plan, looking at what we could do for two hours, not just for qualifying. Qualifying is a different event; racing is what it's all about. I became more conservative and worked my way up the pack."
Just as they did in 2003, Ray and Access Motorsports are starting a bit late this year. The team failed to make the initial two-day open Indy Racing League IndyCar Series test at Homestead-Miami Speedway late last month and, in fact, never made it onto the Phoenix International Raceway mile oval until Wednesday afternoon of last week's two-day test. They had a photo shoot that took up much of Tuesday, when they would have been preparing the car for practice.
Those initial 25 laps on Wednesday afternoon marked Ray's first time on- circuit since the Texas finale last year. For much of last season, his team worked to come to grips with their Panoz G Force/Honda package, the only Honda team using what turned out to be the championship- and Indy 500- winning chassis.
"I just shook down the car on Wednesday afternoon," Ray explained. "The shadows in Turn 2 were pretty dramatic [by the time he got on the tricky, reconfigured one-mile oval]. I couldn't see much, just shadows."
Ray felt, after the test that his team had "hit the ground running and I'm pretty pleased. We just scratched the surface here and never really tried for speed," even as they amassed 141 total laps in a day and a quarter.
For 2004, Greg Ray and Access Motorsports will try to show how they've both matured. "Winning Indy has been my goal from the first day I drove a race car. I used to try and dominate the race from the beginning, but I've learned you have to build momentum.
"I'm still going to be aggressive but now I know I need to get to the end" to complete a race. "The consistent model that we're using to get to the championship is how we can win Indy. We're focused on our preparation" for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
As one of the early drivers in the Indy Racing League, Ray is aware the "culture and climate are different" from how they were when he began here in 1997. "The parameters have changed."
Of course this season presents even more obstacles, as all IndyCar Series teams must change from the current 3.5-liter power mill to a 3-liter engine once practice opens at the Brickyard in May. "It's a change for all of us and we'll have to find out what the car is like in that configuration. We don't know what'll happen. The League has lowered the engine size twice now and, while is may slow the cars, the race [at Indy] will be just as competitive.
"Losing 50-100 horsepower is very significant," Ray continued. "Brian Barnhart and his team have done a great job to make sure the series remains competitive, the most competitive series out there. I just hope it all works as intended," he said of the engine specification change.
The first three races of the season are no less important for Greg Ray, Access Motorsports or any competitor in the IndyCar Series. "We need to have three solid races before May because that adds momentum. There's special focus on Indy, of course, but for those first three races we have to do well and be consistent."
As the first to use the Panoz G Force chassis in conjunction with a Honda engine, Access Motorsports led the way, and now Team Rahal and Super Aguri Fernandez Racing have joined them. "We were instrumental in others teams running" the chassis. "Honda was interested in the package we had. Despite our lack of money and technical resources, we performed well.
"I'm pleased with the way the car ran last week at Phoenix and what I felt from the car. Test speeds don't always reflect what a car is about," he said of the sessions the team missed at Homestead in January. "Panoz G Force won the championship and they won at Indy last year. I feel we'll be competitive out of the box," Ray continued. "I think the Panoz G Force will show its strengths throughout the year."
We'll find out if Greg Ray's prognostications have any basis in reality when chassis specs are frozen next week during the 2004 IndyCar Series debut at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. When the green flag drops on February 29th, the talk won't matter much, will it?