Even as he prepared to return to his Andretti Autosport team's Dallara-Chevrolet IndyCar on Wednesday for the final test sessions of the year, IZOD IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was looking ahead to a very different test – his debut in the Race of Champions this weekend in Bangkok, Thailand, where he will race against an all-star international field for the unofficial title of “champion of champions.”
At the RoC, drivers will battle head to head in identical machinery on a specially constructed paved track with two parallel lanes winding their way around Rajamangala Stadium. Drivers also will pair up for the ROC Nations Cup.
Benito Guerra Jr. of Mexico, who won the World Rally Championship's Production class this season, will partner with Hunter-Reay in the Nations Cup's first “Team Americas.”
Hunter-Reay said he agreed to the RoC appearance just moments after securing the IndyCar crown.
"I saw Jim Hancock, who promotes Race of Champions and runs the event, at the Fontana race, and we had just won the championship. Before I even got up on the stage to accept the trophy with my team, he said, 'You want to do Race of Champions in Bangkok?'" he explained. "And I was in a pretty yes mood, so it was 'yes' to any question I was hearing, for sure!"
The American champ, who is seeded in the same group as seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher in the individual competition, could wind up driving a KTM X-Bow (RIGHT), a Gallardo Super Trofeo, an Audi R8 LMS or even a VW Scirocco.
“I certainly looked up to Michael for a long time. His work ethic and his team mentality has certainly rubbed off on me,,” said Hunter-Reay of the prospect of competing against Schumacher. “He's a guy I've looked up to for a long time. You know, he's had a huge impact in the racing industry and on drivers, young drivers such as myself coming up. So it will be pretty cool to square off against him.”
First he has to get there in time, after finishing his two-day IndyCar test on Thursday.
“I'm definitely threading the needle travel-wise trying to make it to Race of Champions,” he conceded. “Luckily they let me squeeze the Sebring test in. I'm showing up as practice is going on in Bangkok, so I might miss a little practice. But the opportunity to test the IndyCar was certainly my top priority. I think I'm going to have to take a plane or helicopter from Sebring to get to my flight in Miami on time. But it will be one heck of a travel stint.”
Hunter-Reay also admitted that he would be playing at a disadvantage to many of the competitors, having not driven any of the prospective RoC machinery before.
“I don't have any of those toys to mess around with at home,” Hunter-Reay said. “So I think you have to rely on your skill set that you kind of worked on over the years and jumping from car to car, sports car to IndyCars to some of the heavier stuff that I've driven – stock cars and stuff.
“So we'll see. It should be fun. I was a little bit disappointed that there is not some type of open wheel formula car in there, but I think it definitely went more of the rally drivers there. But, hey, it's still a car. It has four wheels and a steering wheel, two pedals, three pedals, you have to make it work.
“Being invited to the Race of Champions in the first place is a pretty big deal for me. It's a race I've watched for a while and something I've wanted to be a part of. It's going to be something racing those guys and really getting to know them and meeting some new people from around the world of motorsports. You really have a lot of respect for these different talent pools that come from F1, MotoGP, rally driving, and at the same time, you can learn quite a bit too about how these guys approach the challenge of the Race of Champions. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we'll have a good time and do well.”
The racing action in Thailand begins with Friday's ROC Thailand and ROC Asia, followed by the ROC Nations Cup on Saturday and the individual Race of Champions on Sunday. Coverage will be available to U.S. vans via YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/DRIVE.
25th annual Race Of Champions lineup:
- Michael Schumacher, seven-time Formula 1 World Champion
- Sebastian Vettel, three-time Formula 1 World Champion
- Jorge Lorenzo, two-time MotoGP World Champion
- Mick Doohan, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion
- Jamie Whincup, four-time V8 Supercar Champion
- David Coulthard, 13-time Formula 1 grand prix winner
- Tom Kristensen, eight-time Le Mans 24-Hour race winner
- Andy Priaulx, three-time World Touring Car Champion
- Benito Guerra Jr., FIA's Production World Rally Champion
- Romain Grosjean, GP2 Series champion
- Sebastien Ogier, World Rally Championship driver and 2011 ROC “Champion of Champions”