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A Champion Prepares for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing

DuJour caught up with defending Indy 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay to talk about this weekend’s race

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The bad news is that with only one more hour-long practice session to go, Ryan Hunter-Reay doesn’t feel like the Andretti Autosport team has their #28 DHL Honda car “dialed in” nearly as well as they did last year. The good news is that because of series-wide changes to the design of the IndyCar introduced this year, his competitors are no further along in striking a balance between speed and handling. This past week’s qualifying and practice sessions have seen a handful of crashes as teams are still struggling to learn how the new aero package behaves in traffic at the storied track where speeds can top out at nearly 250 mph and drivers experience forces upwards of 4Gs in the turns.

For fans not familiar with IndyCar, it is the only series in the world with a schedule that includes road, street, short ovals and speedway tracks, making it, as Hunter-Reay calls it, “a true driver’s championship.” Besides being the most famous track on the schedule, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also one of its most challenging, as Hunter-Reay explains, the track is “highly susceptible” to slight changes in wind speed/direction and temperature—minute shifts in conditions that will turn a well-performing car into a clunker. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay on the racetrack

While the casual observer may just see a bunch of cars endlessly driving around an oval, Hunter-Reay assures it is much more nuanced than that—even early in the race one can find clues as to which cars will be vying for the checkered flag in the final laps. “The really good cars, the cars that are going to be there at the end, are the ones that are fastest from halfway through the tire-life stint,” he explains. Tires tend to last around 30 laps before cars need to come into the pit lane for a change, so it’s a safe bet that the quickest cars on laps 15 to 30 of each tire cycle will be moving towards the front. However, as Hunter-Reay also points out, most teams’ strategy changes over the course of the race as they begin to gamble either on increasing downforce for better grip or taking it out for a higher top speed. All these factors (weather, car setup, tire life and a yet-to-be mastered aero package) ensure that this year’s race should be anything but boring.

For those able to make the trip to Indy, Hunter-Reay shares some can’t-miss activities, restaurants and more.

The Conrad Indianapolis: Hunter-Reay’s hotel of choice when he’s in Indy.

St. Elmo’s Steak House: An Indianapolis institution, the shrimp cocktail is “a must.” 

Flat12 Bierwerks: IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is a partner in this beer-topia—try his namesake, the Hinchtown Hammer Down ale. 

Dawson’s on Main: A relaxed atmosphere staple just outside the speedway entrance.

Charlie Browns Pancake and Steakhouse: It’s not unlikely that you’ll bump into the likes of AJ Foyt at this breakfast spot. 

Dallara IndyCar Factory Tour: A chance to see how IndyCars are made and experience (via a simulator) the thrill of a lap at IMS.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art: The “Dreamcars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” exhibit is also a must-see. Curated by celebrated auto writer Ken Gross, the exhibition features a collection of rare cars that highlight the inspired (and often wildly experimental) concepts that vehicle designers have used to push the boundaries of automotive inception. Click through the gallery of pictures to get a glimpse of what’s in store.

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