Second in a series looking at the IZOD IndyCar Series championship season of Ryan Hunter-Reay through various eyes. Today, his race engineer and crew chief weigh in on the confidence factor.
That confidence exuded by Ryan Hunter-Reay not only aided the Andretti Autosport driver on his course to the IZOD IndyCar Series title, but blanketed all team members down to fellow drivers Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe as the drama-filled season came to a climax at Auto Club Speedway.
Crew chief Josh Freund witnessed it. Race engineer Ray Gosselin felt it like never before in his three seasons working with the 31-year-old Floridian. Evolved from experience, maturity, determination – most likely equal parts all three – it was perceptible and viral.
“He’s comfortable and he was confident and then the confidence really exploded after we won one, then we won two,” says Freund, who also has been a member of the No. 28 car crew for three years. “You just saw him change. I wouldn’t say all of us never believed that we could (win the title), but it was like we have this so put it on our shoulders and let’s go.
Click it: Ryan Hunter-Reay talks about chemistry with the crew, team
“We never got uptight. He never got wound up. He might have been a little nervous deep down inside but he never showed it and we never caught on. We just kept it loose. To me, he just had that confidence inside this year and that was the biggest difference from years past.”
Gosselin points to Hunter-Reay’s lean years of racing – that period after losing a Champ Car ride in 2005 to before joining then-Rahal Letterman Racing for a partial 2007 IZOD IndyCar Series season as an agent to his mind-set.
“From working on the car, you take a lot away from his determination,” Gosselin adds. “You want to make sure you’re holding up your end of the deal because he’s holding up his end. That permeates through the team.
“I want to make sure I’m giving him the best car I can because as we’ve seen when we do we get some pretty good results. He never gives up, and that’s the way it should be in sports until you’re told it’s over. We could have a bad weekend like Sonoma, which couldn’t have gone worse from the championship standpoint. But we’re going to do something at Baltimore. We don’t know what but it will happen.
“He sets the tone with his attitude. You look at his career and how he got here. That fighting attitude really shows.”
It served the Andretti Autosport crew well in the first half of the season when the No. 28 entry was mired in seventh place in the championship standings following a 21st-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in early June. Gosselin says it was “pretty demoralizing really,” especially after showing promise in the second half of the 2011 season to finish seventh in the standings (one win, nine top-10 finishes).
“(The championship) was something that we knew we were capable of and there were certainly signs of it last year,” Gosselin says. “One thing or another we just couldn’t get rolling to make a serious challenge for it, but if you looked at the second half of last year we certainly came on strong.
“To put a championship together you have to be consistent, so going into this season we just wanted to carry the momentum we thought we had from last year into this year and make sure we’re running at the end of these races. When you have the opportunity to win it you go for it and if not you try to do the best you can.”
Three consecutive victories followed Texas, which pointed Hunter-Reay in the right direction and re-energized the confidence that was evident to the entire team. He clinched the title by three points with a fourth-place finish in an ill-handling car in the finale at Auto Club Speedway. Gosselin and Freund joined in the celebration along with Marco Andretti and Hinchcliffe.
“Everyone is a bit re-energized and the camaraderie is back to where it was in the days (of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon driving for the team),” Gosselin says. “We just want to keep it rolling and (the drivers) set the tone for everybody. They trust each other. I said to them, ‘There’s no way we do this without you guys.’ That’s the way it used to be. You believe in them doing their part and they believe in you.”