Hunter-Reay untroubled by poor qualifying
15 September 2012
If Ryan Hunter-Reay was disappointed about his performance in qualifying on Friday afternoon - 17th fastest on the timesheets, putting him in 22nd spot on the starting grid for Saturday night's MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California - then he wasn't showing it.
"Today we didn't concentrate at all on qualifying," he explained. "We went out there kind of not knowing what we had. I was one of the first team cars, had a massive imbalance that [my team mates] learned from," he said. "All the Andretti cars have been trying different setups.
"That's the downside to going first [in qualifying]," he said. "I knew with the lift I had in qualifying it wasn't going to be a good one," he admitted.
As far as Hunter-Reay was concerned, qualifying performance and the starting grid position were largely irrelevant when it came to such a marathon race in any case.
"It's a 500-mile race," he said. "At the same time you don't want to be buried in traffic either ... It's always better to be up at the front. It's usually drama-free. We'll be looking to get up there as soon as possible."
More important in his eyes was the opportunity that the teams had on Friday evening to get out on track as dusk started to near, which is the same time of day that the race will start at.
He said that the plan was to "put that to use, shake it down, get a good feel for it, put it on track for tomorrow night. A good racecar around here is one that's well-balanced and stays under you over the long run, that's what we're looking for."
Hunter-Reay's rival for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, Will Power, broadly agreed with that analysis.
"Honestly, the only thing that it's good for is to maybe be keeping out of if something happens. Apart from that, you can start a lap down, still come back and win the thing," said Power. "You can be a lap down halfway and still come back and win. So, yeah, it's not a big deal."
Both drivers emphasises just how changeable the conditions had proven to be in the heat of the Californian desert.
"It was very unpredictable," stressed Power. "Wind changes, the whole track changes. I had totally different balance to what I had all weekend. I got hard limiter both laps down the back straight on a bump."
"This track has been changing every session, every lap," agreed Hunter-Reay. "With the heat today, we didn't have that yesterday, I mean, this is like Vegas heat. It's just constantly changing.
"It's definitely going to change and throughout the night the track will change as well, I've got a good feeling for where I want to run on the track during the race" he added. "What worked for me in Iowa I think could work here as well, so hopefully we'll use that," he added, recalling one of his three oval victories so far in 2012.
With Power and Hunter-Reay failing to set the fastest time of qualifying even before their ten place grid penalties were applied, neither gains the advantage of the extra championship points for pole position.
Instead, it's Marco Andretti who after a four year gap since his first at Milwaukee in 2008, finally picked up his second series pole position by just 0.011mph (0.0032s) ahead of Ryan Briscoe .
"I've been on the outside looking in on that hundredth of a mile an hour for the pole, I was on the good side of that today," said the delighted Andretti Autosport driver. "I had my mind made up that I was going flat - whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
"If I do a lazy lift, we're not going to have a chance for the pole," he said of his thoughts as he'd gone into his two-lap qualifying run. "I just went for it on lap one. She hung in there. But then lap two, I committed again to being flat. I had an even bigger lift. I should have, hindsight lap two, just done a lazy lift, just committed to lifting. Instead I committed to going flat and had to bail out big-time."
Even though his team mate Hunter-Reay is the only driver still in with a chance of thwarting Will Power's hopes of clinching the 2012 title, Andretti insisted that he wasn't going to be stepping aside to let anyone else win just for the sake of it.
"I know my teammate's in the championship," he said. "We're going to help him if we're around him on the track by not interfering, but this is going to race like a high-speed short oval. There's not much I can do drafting-wise to actually help him [but] I'm not going to hurt him or Will.
"We're definitely showing up here to win," he added. "I'm going to be out to try to win the race, end on a good note to carry some momentum into the off-season."
Ryan Briscoe will be starting alongside Andretti when the green flag comes out shortly before 6pm PST (2am BST Sunday morning), and he said he was expecting the season finale to be an absolute thriller.
"It will be exciting," he said. "I've never seen so many different racing lines working on a single track, from some cars being on the white line, apexing at the white line, some cars running around the wall up the top, about a hundred feet in between, with any other line working as well.
"Plenty of room. Big, long, fast track," he added. "Challenging start with the sun in your eyes for about 30 minutes probably. Then the sun comes down. We're watching the track temperatures, they drop really dramatically as soon as the sun goes behind the grandstands. All of a sudden the car comes to life. You can get a lot more aggressive out there.
"Great formula," he summed up. "We're racing hard, but we're not pack racing. I think it's more exciting than any oval racing we would have seen last year."