Since winning the IZOD IndyCar Series championship Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Ryan Hunter-Reay has barely had a chance to breathe. Despite the onslaught of media commitments, appearances and other obligations, one thing that's been limited in that month-plus period is actual time on track.
That changes this week as RHR is one of two IndyCar champions (Dario Franchitti) in action at the American Le Mans Series season finale, Petit Le Mans. Having originally been confirmed as one of four drivers in the SRT Motorsports Viper GTS-R program back in April, he's finally had his first test in the car this week as he prepares for his ALMS GT class debut alongside Kuno Wittmer and Dominik Farnbacher in the team's No. 91 car.
The biggest change for Hunter-Reay, who's also raced in P2 (Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b) and Grand-Am's Daytona Prototypes this year, is adjusting to the nature of being the pass-ee rather than the passer while in the GT class.
“Actually that's the biggest thing to get used to, not the weight transfer in driving such a heavier car,” he explains Wednesday. “The closing rates and braking distances from the prototypes to these are so much difference. You're always looking in your mirrors. I'm not used to it yet! You have to be more aware of the prototypes coming out of nowhere. That really shows itself here, because there's a lot of blind corners, and rolling hills.”
Hunter-Reay hasn't had much running at Road Atlanta, but did test a couple weeks ago along with Simon Pagenaud in Level 5's HPD. That created some confusion that RHR might be back in the same car he raced at Sebring, but with Pagenaud on duty in Australia for the V8 Supercars race and RHR already committed to Viper, it wasn't changing.
So, initial thoughts, then, of the ground-pounding GT beast?
“It's definitely an exciting new challenge,” he says. “The SRT Viper is really about adapting my driving style to it. It's very early days in the development process, especially as it's the first endurance race for this car.”
Back in a race situation for the first time since Fontana, not much has changed in his mind since that great night. It's business back in a cockpit this week, and the endless stream of duties hasn't allowed it to fully sink in.
“It's started to, but I haven't really had time to sit down and think about it,” he admits. “There's been the P2 testing and some simulator work with Level 5 to prep for Road Atlanta.
“I think it will settle in at the championship banquet, when I see our car on stage and the Astor Cup, and the team on stage. Everyday I get an opportunity to be in a car it's a blessing.”
Lastly, although on the fringe of the sports car world on a full-time basis, Hunter-Reay is still well-versed in “merger talks” as Grand-Am and ALMS are set to come together in 2014. As one of a handful of drivers who've been in all semi-related prototypes in his career (DP, P2 and PC), Hunter-Reay can speak to the challenge facing series officials as they figure out either an equivalency formula or a way to categorize prototype racing in the future.
“Unification either way is a good thing. It's too tough explaining to the average fan – trust me, I've done it a lot from my time in CART/Champ Car!” he notes. “It goes against the bottom line. There's two things – I love the racing you get with DPs, and there's not many cooler cars out there than LMP1s and P2s. So I don't know how they mix, but you don't want to lose the technology and lose the beauty of the prototype cars. You have to keep the balance, somehow.”