After winning the championship in 2012, Ryan Hunter-Reay came out in 2013 and had a solid season with a pair of wins and six podiums, though would only finish seventh in points. Heading into the 2014 season, Hunter-Reay is looking to have a strong season and possibly score his second championship.
“I think we had a great season, but didn’t put the whole thing together, had some bad luck,” Hunter-Reay commented during media day. “Looking forward to 2014. A lot of new challenges coming at us. Working with our new partner at Honda. This series is ever evolving, competition getting tougher. Penske added a car, Ganassi back to four with T.K. and Briscoe over there. It’s going to be tougher every year. It’s just how it works.”
There will be one difference at Andretti Autosport as Hunter-Reay goes after the crown as he will be using Honda power, rather than Chevrolet, as AA makes the switch for the new season. Honda will be debuting a new twin-turbo motor this year to go up against Chevrolet’s twin-turbo package from last year.
“It’s going to be great to work with Honda this year. I’m pretty optimistic about the way it’s been headed,” he commented.
While they have been out testing and getting ready for 2014, Hunter-Reay says it’s hard to tell where you stand against the competition as everybody is testing different packages.
“We’ve been working with Honda, it’s completely different than the single turbo, the drivability side of it. Honda has a lot of work to do just to catch up to what Chevy has been used to,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think it’s going to be great this year. I think it’s going to be very tight. On the other side of the test, we’ve been working on developing our mechanical grip setup as well. I haven’t been on an oval this off-season. Marco went to Fontana. But been doing a lot of work at Sebring.”
Hunter-Reay went on to say later in the media session that he feels confident in his chances due to the how well the team is working together across the board, whether him and his engineer, or with his teammates Marco Andretti, Jamse Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz.
” Coming back, working with the same group of people, the communication is there,” Hunter-Reay said. “As I’ve always said, it’s an open book of communication between us. That’s how things work well. When James is finding something, it transfers to Marco and myself. Marco and I have different driving styles, so it doesn’t always transfer. James and I are a little bit more similar on the street circuits.
“On the ovals, we all take each other’s setup. After that, it’s interchangeable. No problem. And we’re open with each other. If we don’t like something, we want somebody to know something, it’s all open.
“It’s a lot of fun on the side, too. James, he’s a living, walking comic show. Never a dull moment with him, that’s for sure.”
Whether knowing if their hard work will pay off, Hunter-Reay says nobody will know where they stand against each other till the first race of the season – St. Petersburg. Though it’s not always an indication of how the whole season will go, as he notes Dixon’s struggles there last year – before going on to win the championship.
“If you have a team that’s been used to success and they stumble there, they can come back,” he commented. “If you’re still trying to work with people to get them all together, you stumble there, could make for a tough beginning of the season.
For Hunter-Reay, St. Pete marks a hometown race for him and a track that he really enjoys kicking off the season at with family in attendance.
“I love St. Pete downtown. I can see why the Wheldons moved there, why Bourdais is there. It feels like Fort Lauderdale of the West Coast,” he commented. “I love that it’s the kickoff to our season. It feels like it’s been hot or cold there for me. Either we DNF, have an issue, don’t finish, strategize our way out of it, or we finish on the podium. Hopefully it will be the latter this time around.
“I think we’ve been doing a lot of work on the car. Mechanically I think we’ll be there, mechanical grip-wise. But we’ll see. It’s a fun racetrack. It’s got everything you need, big braking zones, passing zones, technical bits. It can be tricky during the race because it changes so much.”
While things are changing on-track, Hunter-Reay has enjoyed things off track in raising his son Ryden with wife Beccy.
“Just having a son is amazing, especially at this age, being one year old,” Hunter-Reay commented. “He’s into it. He sat in the car at Daytona, the Viper, just loved it. He lit up.”
Team owner Michael Andretti and wife Jodi just gave birth to twins, in which Hunter-Reay says the boss “has his hands full, for sure – as if he didn’t have his hands full with Marco.”