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Q. How was Atlanta?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was interesting. It was usual Atlanta, unfortunately.
Q. Your thoughts on how you follow up a year like last year?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: How do you follow up a year like last year? I really don’t have the answer for that. We’re going to have to be better than last year, that’s for sure. I know that. That’s what we’re looking to do, is come back and improve in our weak areas.
We didn’t have too many weak spots last year, but if anything you can point out, the superspeedways, I think Texas, Fontana. We were running decent in Indy, but we had a mechanical failure there.
I guess the big tracks we need to step it up a little bit.
But I think across the board we’re just going to have to be better than last year. It’s going to be a really tough season. I think this is going to be the tightest competition we’ve seen in IndyCar in a very, very long time.
Q. Depth of competition, new car.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I mean, everything. The manufacturers are another year into it, Honda and Chevrolet, two of the best in the business, have another year under their belt. Then you have all these teams, Andretti, Ganassi, Penske, Schmidt, you can keep going, Rahal, KV, all these top teams have a lot more data on these cars. We’re not testing to the first race now, we know what we’re doing with them.
I think it’s going to make it that much tougher to get a win. It’s going to be tight. Qualifying is going to be at a premium. It’s going to be like that through the whole season, you know, just give-and-take a little bit.
But I think everybody’s expecting that and it won’t be a surprise when it comes.
Q. You mentioned the big tracks. I know it doesn’t affect your individual engineer. With McDonald leaving, one of his fortés was the big tracks. Does that make the challenge bigger?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely, it does. With him leaving as late as he did, that definitely wasn’t ideal. Everybody is dissatisfied with that, leaving that late in the off season because it put us in an awkward position and it helped Schmidt quite a bit.
But I think the additions we’ve had since then, with Craig coming on and working with James. Craig is a top-notch guy, top-notch engineer. He’s a real addition to our race team.
I think as James put it, where one door closes a window opens, I think he said. It’s an opportunity for us to take the next step forward, somebody with a different perspective, dealing with working with Newman/Haas for so many years. We’re looking forward to that information. We’re really looking forward to working with Craig.
We have Michael coming on with E.J.’s car. Ray, my engineer, is working as a de facto technical director in some ways. He’s kind of leading it, I guess. I’m really happy with our direction. And I think the atmosphere on the team is really positive, despite those late personnel changes, which you would think would really put the team down. The additions we had right after that really boosted the team. So it could be a win.
Q. Ray still on your car, overseeing the entire group?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Ray is on my car still. He’s overseeing the group. At the same time Craig, he’s fully capable of taking on his own program, whatever that may be. Let’s just give you an example, like aero. Then Ray would work on dampers. Kind of piecing it together.
Q. Is there any progress on the Fort Lauderdale race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yes. The support continues to come. It’s a matter of getting the location we want to do it in. In order for one stretch of road to share two straightaways, the roads are going to have to be widened, and the sidewalk would have to be dealt with in a way where it’s removable almost. You wouldn’t know it if you saw it, but they do this at a few other racetracks.
They would be able to remove the sidewalk, and underneath would be pavement/racetrack. For the rest of the year they would put the sidewalk back.
The problem is all this is financially very (indiscernible). You have to take a big risk in order for it to pay off over five, six years for a race to work out.
There’s a lot of local support, a lot of local support, whether that be from car dealers, DHL is right there locally, as well. Just had very good feedback on it.
There’s just so much to it. It’s shocking how much there is to it. We’ll see. A lot of people want to make it happen, the right people want to make it happen.
Q. What was your off-season like?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Off-season was unreal. It started off pretty busy testing. We went into the tour right afterwards and then went and tested. I was tested in Road Atlanta, Race of Champions in Bangkok, then our son was born December 28th. So he got there just in time to make 2012, the year that could be pretty much unmatched. 2012, it was a year of firsts. Never be quite a year like it, even if we win a championship. Pretty unbelievable season, unbelievable year, outside of the car, as well, so…
But it’s been busy in the off-season just doing sponsor appearances, the usual stuff, and keeping up with mostly what’s going on at home, with the little guy. I’m still getting used to being woken up all hours of the night. Last night wasn’t exactly smooth sailing either.
You know, any parent knows it’s a lot of fun. We’re loving every bit of it. Doing the 12 hours of Sebring next weekend and then on to St. Pete. Daytona 24 Hours, too. Forgot that one. Finished second there. How close it was at the end was pretty amazing, but had a pretty good time with Wayne Taylor’s team there. Almost got a win for Chevy.
So, yeah, it was a very busy off-season. Missed the testing, though. Really missed the testing that we did last year. A number of drivers have mentioned that. Testing three days at Sebring and then basically going racing into the season is a bit of a bummer.
Q. You got three days at Sebring?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah.
Q. That’s actually a lot.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I heard from a few guys that tested Barber, Sonoma, Sebring, Texas, Milwaukee. Not all one team, but been around quite a bit, so…
Q. What was it like doing the Race of Champions?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The Race of Champions was a lot of fun, very unique. You get there, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to that track or not, if you know the cars and which one to get. These guys have it dialed in. The guys that have been there many times know.
I got off the plane, a few hours of sleep, I got there late, went straight to the track, put on a helmet, get in line, here comes a car, they don’t tell you anything about it, you get in it and you run two laps. You get out, the next car, you run two laps. The next car is there, you run two laps. Each car you run, different gears, different braking points, different handling, then the next night is the race. One warmup lap before the race.
You really have to work with your other drivers to get information out of them. Trust me, they don’t want to tell you a thing. These guys are there with a smile, but they don’t want to tell you anything.
I had a great time with them, a great time with the people that organized it. It was put on the right way. But I heard that Schumacher, they rent the cars a couple weeks earlier to get some times in them. The Team USA guys, hopefully we’ll be able to go back at some point. We’re definitely going to do some practice.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I was, yeah. Definitely by the time the races got going, I was kind of finding where it was at. It’s all 2/10ths, 3/10ths. It’s nothing big. I was just overdriving the car. Because how you drive IndyCars, everything I’m used to, pretty hard. There was no grip. I was sliding around, losing a lot of time. I learned a lot but had a good time.
Q. How advanced do you feel like your car is this year versus last year?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It’s been fine, for sure. We’re dealing with the same animal. There’s no breakthroughs. You’re going to find some teams that find an advantage with dampers, find an advantage a little bit under the braking, stuff like that, power down. But there’s no major revelations happening. It’s small chunks here and there.
That’s why I really hope we get to develop some type of aero kit or something that really takes the next step of development next year, so we can really go back to the drawing board and work on things. I just really enjoyed what we dealt with last year, which was developing an engine in a very short period of time.
Right now we’re in that last percentile, where we’re tweaking things, getting it honed in. We have the standing starts and everything else that we can work on. That’s new. That will be fun, I think.
Q. You think they’re any different than the pit stops?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, it’s quite a bit different. A lot different actually. Leaving the pits, you’re on a pit lane limiter, helps you get out of the box. You’re not allowed to do that on standing starts. This is just basically taking off in a straight line as fast as you can go.
Yeah, it’s quite a bit different.
Q. Ryan, have you noticed much of a change from the engine to start this season versus last year’s Chevy?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: No, I really haven’t. Not much. I mean, you know, like I said, a little bit of refinements, like the shifts are a little crisper. Going down the straightaway, you’re almost like you’re waiting for, Is that different? I don’t know. It’s small, very small.
Q. Do you feel any pressure coming in as the defending champion or a relief that you have it out of the way?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It’s both really. The best thing about winning a championship, this is what I’ve been working for my entire life, it’s a dream come true. Nobody can ever take that away from me now, from us, from our team. It’s something that we accomplished. We earned it, straight up earned it. Nobody can ever take that away. That’s a beautiful thing. We were IndyCar champions.
We’re starting new now. We’re the defending champions. And that does absolutely nothing for us when the green flag flies in St. Pete. We’re starting all over again. We have to go out there and live up to the No. 1 on the side of the car. That’s where the pressure comes from, is living up to that No. 1.
I know if we execute and put a decent car on the racetrack, we’ll be competitive, competing for race wins. Putting the package together is the tough part. That’s what we have to focus on.
We know how to do it from last year. We know where we need to be a lot better. Hopefully if we do that we improve in the areas we need to, then we can make a serious run for this championship.
I know one thing, it’s going to be interesting. I think the past three seasons now it’s come down to the last race, and it certainly will this year, I guarantee it.
Q. Does that ever creep you out a little bit to see your face on these banners, ‘champion’ next to it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: No, it’s definitely cool. I wouldn’t say ‘creep me out’ is the right word. For sure, it’s interesting to see.
Q. Does it seem real?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Not really. It’s all still a pretty new feeling, the champion side of it. There was so much pressure packed into the last bit of the season, I just kind of had the blinders on. The next thing I know we’ve emerged from the masses as champions of the IndyCar Series.
Q. When did it strike you that you were the champion?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: A few weeks after probably, yeah, is probably when it really settled in.
Q. What about having four cars, four drivers this year? They’ve done that before. Do you think that is going to make things easier or more complicated?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don’t know. I really don’t know. We haven’t had time to work with it yet. We haven’t had an opportunity to work with the four cars. E.J. did one day at Sebring with us. Everything seemed great, fine. Like you said, this is what they’re accustomed to, what they’re used to working with, is four cars. Hopefully this will be beneficial for us.
We certainly had a great chemistry last year with the three of us. This is hopefully a good addition, so…
We’ll see. We’re certainly all going to continue to be open to learn. If a teammate goes quick, that makes us quicker, so we’ll all work together and push.
Thank you, guys.