Ryan, talk about today’s race and additionally you started the season off with an 18th-place finish, talk about bouncing back with this win.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I felt like coming into Barber this was going to be the start of our season. We had a big hole to dig out of from St. Pete. We had a stuck throttle. We pulled a win. That’s a new feat for us at Andretti Autosport.
The guys have done a great job in the off-season. Several times in the off-season I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big super speedways like Texas and Fontana.
The guys gave me a great car. I had more pressure today than anything bringing a car home that I knew was capable of winning. That was the biggest pressure.
The pressure Dixon put on in the end was close to that, though, I tell you what. This place is one of the most physical tracks you’ll ever drive. Four Gs in the corners, that was an extremely tough race.
Q. Not that there was ever any doubt that Andretti Autosport was back, but it shows to be able to come off of a championship season, win the first two races, what does that say for the organization, how dominant they’ve become at the moment?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It really shows that we’re a threat every weekend. That’s what we need to be to win championships, is be a threat every weekend. We showed that we were at St. Pete. We showed we are here at Barber. I have a good feeling we will be at Long Beach, Sao Paulo, and Indy, too.
We’re getting more work done early in the season than last year. Last year we started going on our hot streak much later in the season. So hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Hope so.
Q. Ryan, you were cruising along in the lead seemingly pulling away at any time you wanted. It seemed in a short period of time you went from first to third. Can you describe the actions that took place that got you down there, what you did to get back to the front?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was all about tire strategy. At some point you had to get on the standard Firestones. You knew you were going to go backwards at that point.
We did it in our middle stint, our second stint. I cruised to a big lead in the opening stint. Right when I got on the blacks, Helio on new reds started closing on me, just like I did on him in the last stint. Will did a fabulous job keeping me behind him. I’m not sure because I had a couple good runs on him. It was hard racing. I didn’t want to take any risks this early in the season. I knew I had a great car, so I had to bring it home.
Luckily though, our tire strategy I think was the best one, which is what Dixon was on. We were able to overcome Helio there in that last stint because he was on blacks to finish, the standard tires.
Q. How close did Dixon seem in your rearview mirror the last 10 laps?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: He stayed really close. Not many guys you don’t want in your mirror, but that’s one of them you really don’t want in your mirror. He’s a veteran that doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s won championships, the Indy 500. He’s the best. You know he’s going to be flawless, so you have to hit every little mark you can just to make sure that you’re not making a mistake at that crucial moment. Had I made one mistake, he would have been by.
So, yeah, it was pressure-packed.
Q. Have you seen the Brazilian doughnut on the right side pod of the car?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I didn’t see it. Brazilian doughnut?
Q. Helio’s wheel mark.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I got it now. Yeah, Brazilian doughnut on the side of the car. We were just racing hard, got on the inside, couldn’t slow the car down. I think he saw me coming. He was turning down, saw me coming. But he probably figured I’d be turning for that left-hander, too. I couldn’t slow the car down.
Luckily we made contact and both of us continued on, continued to race hard with no issues.
Q. But that could have been the end of the road.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, you’re right. That could have been the end of the road for me, broken suspension. I’m sure we bent the tow a little bit on our car because it was lighter going to the left, the handling was. Yeah, glad we both got out of that one. That was a close call.
Q. As the leader, all that action was going on behind you, were you aware of it? Did you have any idea of what to expect going into it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I knew the start is always hairy because you can end up winning side-by-side, two-by-two, through turn one, two and three, which sets up a pretty interesting situation going into turn five. I just wanted to get a jump-start. Every time I did, I got a good jump on the rest of the field.
I knew it was an interesting start when Marco went from eighth to third. I’m not sure what happened at yellow, he said Will went off at turn one, I guess. I’m not sure. There had to have been something that happened, because Marco went around the outside of everybody in turn two and three is what I heard.
It was nice being up front, though. Having three poles, I haven’t had that many times to start the race. I need to do that more often. It makes the job a lot easier having your own time to go whenever you want to stack the field up and space it out, so…
Q. You had a battle there in the middle portion of the race. Were you having to drive with your mirror and windshield at the same time there?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, exactly. I knew Helio was coming. He was coming on sticker reds. I had to get by Will somehow. Will, I mean, his car was 15 feet wide. It was really hard to get by him, which is supposed to be.
I was surprised I couldn’t work my way by him on better tires. That was our worst set of reds, most laps on it from qualifying. I couldn’t work my way by. Helio just kept closing on those new reds that he had. Helio and I got into it. At one point I got stacked up behind Will because he was so slow through the middle of the corners.
Helio checked out. Will made a mistake. Helio slipped by him. Helio checked out. I knew, though, that Helio would have to run his new blacks at the end. Big picture racing again. This is something you learn the more you race. You get a little bit more mature with it. You get patient. You know that the race is coming back to you. I just stayed patient at that point and knew that my time would come, and it did at the end.
Q. Last year at Long Beach, Dixon got left out on the course. Today it happened to Hinch. If they could get the tow, make a repair, is that something that IndyCar needs to address?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, that is unfortunate, right? If you pull off to the right, you’re stuck, you’re on an island. If you pull off to the left, you’re on the side that can get you back possibly through the outside of the track and into the pit lane.
It is tough. I know there’s a lot of tracks like that in endurance racing. They tell you, if you have an issue, pull off this way or that way.
It would be tough to go yellow to get a car across the track or tow them back.
Q. Or extend it a lap to get him back.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: True. They were towing him, I don’t know. They just gave up or they towed him back to a hole in the wall.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You can’t help that then. That’s hard to help that. You can’t slow down the momentum of the whole race for one guy. Sometimes it’s your day, sometimes it’s not, unfortunately.
Q. Two races, two winners. Pretty good races. New faces mixing it up a little. Do you think that bodes well for the season?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I think it bodes well for sure. I hope we’re not too new of a face. It’s good to hear that we are. With James winning last week, great personality, great kid. He really drove, like I said, to a very deserving win.
It’s great to be in Victory Lane, showing that last year we were for real. This was one of our weakest tracks. To be on pole and win, I hope it’s a sign of things to come.
It’s amazing when I think about it how different the weekend could be. Let’s say I didn’t put that lap in qualifying in the end, you start second or third, the whole weekend is changed. It can hinge at any point. That’s the beauty of racing. That’s the things that the fans don’t get to see, is how precise the whole entire execution of the weekend is.
Q. Big picture question, but does it feel any different today racing in the lead as a champion? Different spot now.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The only way it feels different is you’re in the lead, you should win it. You’ve got the pressure. You’re in the lead. Champions do not give up the lead, they win the race. That was the biggest pressure about it. That’s how I felt about the racecar, too. When you have a car capable of winning, you don’t give that opportunity up because they don’t come very often.
Yeah, those two together, that’s the pressure. Hey, you know, champions don’t give up the lead when they’re in it. They seize the moment and make the most of it, so…
It’s a good pressure, though. Last year we were under much more pressure than anything I felt today, which helps. Having gone through the stress of fighting a championship helps on days like today.
Q. At times in your career you probably thought that you could win this race. Has the mindset changed to you should win this race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, you should win the race when you have a 12-second lead. That’s when I felt like, oh, no, everything could go wrong at this point. There’s a little bit of ‘I should.’ We’ve won races in the past last year, and we had the car capable of winning. That was a bit of the ‘I should’ one. I’m in the lead, got the car to win, we’re defending champions.
But that doesn’t apply every weekend.
Q. You are a former Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner. One of your better tracks. How confident do you feel going out there in two weeks?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I really feel confident. In IndyCar, the momentum can swing at any point because the competition is so close, the drivers are so talented. You could be going to your best racetrack, have a little bit of a mistake in qualifying, be 10th or 11th. Your weekend is changed at that point. You have to go to a different tire strategy, whatever it is.
We’ll be looking to have another mistake-free weekend at Long Beach. That’s one of my favorite events as a whole.