Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay says that despite his victory in the Toyota GP of Long Beach earlier this month, his season still remains unconfirmed beyond the Indy 500, making Indy and this weekend's first oval race of the year at Kansas Speedway of paramount importance.
Have you been looking forward to getting on an oval after the momentum you have from the road courses?
"Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what I always say about IndyCar. That's what I love about it, is you're always changing up disciplines of racing – like what we just did, going from a permanent road course to a temporary street circuit to a mile-and-a-half super speedway. That's what makes this series what it is.
"It's the only racing series in the world that does that. It's really cool. I'm looking forward to it. I think it'll be my best opportunity in oval equipment that I've ever had. I'm definitely looking forward to having some fun turning left."
Earlier today, the Indy Racing League announced that it will crown champions for the oval portion of the schedule and the road and street portions of the schedule, in addition to the overall IZOD IndyCar Championship. What are your thoughts on the new format?
"I think it's great to highlight the fact that we do have two completely different disciplines of racing within one series. Like I said, it's the only racing series in the world that does that with the street courses, road courses, mile-and-a-half super speedways, and short ovals. So it's great to highlight that and give it some recognition – but really what matters is winning the Indy 500 and winning the series championship. I don't think anybody has heard that and is like, 'OK, my primary goal is to win the road course championship or win the oval.' I think it's kind of a side note – 'Congratulations, you were the best in that category.' But what real matters is the series championship and Indy 500."
How important is it to have an oval as a lead-in to the month of May, especially given the shortening of the month of May schedule?
"It's absolutely critical. Kansas is a warm-up to Indy. It's not like Indy in any way, but at the same time it is an oval race. You have to get your package sorted, get yourself comfortable back on a big super speedway like that back in packs – you know, pack racing.
"Yeah, it's definitely crucial heading into the next stretch of the season, which is four oval races. But really, everybody has their eye on Indy. That's the big picture here. We're heading into the month of May coming up, and that's on our minds 10 times a day."
Some people criticize Kansas and other 1.5-milers as cookie-cutter tracks. What do you see as unique about Kansas? What are some of the things you have to be good at to do well there?
"I don't think I really see anything as being unique with Kansas. I do see that we have a good amount of mile-and-a-half ovals, so we need to get that package sorted. This is the first test of that, and we need to go out and have a good race weekend.
"There's a lot of importance riding on this weekend for us as a team, and on my program. Obviously, IZOD has been great as a sponsor of the No. 37 Andretti Autosport car. We're heading into the month of May very uncertain about where it leads us. Indy could very well be our last race. It's just a big question right now."