Hunter-Reay To ROC And Roll With ‘The Man’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 13 2012

Ryan Hunter-Reay is headed to Thailand to test the best. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Even a big-time racing champion is capable of hero-worship, and for Ryan Hunter-Reay that driver is “Schumi.”

Hunter-Reay, the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, will cross paths with Formula One “superheld” Michael Schumacher of Germany while competing in the 25th annual Race of Champions in Thailand this weekend.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Michael. He’s The Man, seven-time world champion,” Hunter-Reay said during a teleconference earlier this week. “There is so much to learn from him that I’ll just be a sponge around him, for sure. But everybody’s going to be having fun at the same time. So it is a competition. You get a group of drivers together, a group of riders together, and everybody wants to win – doesn’t matter if we’re racing a shopping cart.”

Hunter-Reay will join a global list of drivers competing head-to-head in identical machinery on a specially constructed track featuring two parallel lanes winding around Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok. Drivers also will pair-up for the ROC Nations Cup, with Hunter-Reay teaming with Mexico’s Benito Guerra Jr., the FIA’s Production World Rally Champion, on the first Team Americas. World Rally Championship driver Sebastien Ogier of France will return as 2011 Champion of Champions.

Hunter-Reay, who has been seeded in the same group as Schumacher in the individual competition, could wind up driving a KTM X-Bow, a Gallardo Super Trofeo, an Audi R8 LMS or a VW Scirocco against the driver who holds every major F1 record. Schumacher retired for the second time after the Brazilian Grand Prix last month.

“I certainly looked up to Michael for a long time,” said Hunter-Reay, who will represent Andretti Autosport as well as INDYCAR. “His work ethic and his team mentality has certainly rubbed off on me. 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 off. I’m looking to advance as far as I can, and hopefully surprise a few folks there.”

Given the car lineup, Hunter-Reay admittedly will be at a disadvantage. “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 IndyCar to some of the heavier stuff that I’ve driven, stock cars and stuff – you just have to rely on the skill-set.

“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; I think it definitely went more (toward) 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.

“I have started watching tapes from previous years. You can only get so much from the outside looking in as the cars are so much different each time. And it’s basically a Figure-8 style track with some curving and chicanes put in. It’s not like years past in Race of Champions where you’d almost go on a rally course off-road and back on the pavement. So it’s different, for sure. But I think it’s going to have to be get in the car and get used to it.”

Hunter-Reay was scheduled to head overseas after testing his No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevrolet Wednesday on the 1.65-mile Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway course. His trip was to start with a helicopter flight from Sebring to Miami.

“Yeah, it’s going to be tough,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s eight-something hours to London then a three-hour layover, and then 12-plus (hours) to Bangkok from there. (But) 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. I think we certainly deserved our spot. It’s going to be something racing those guys and getting to know them and meeting 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.”

In recent years, ROC has visited the Stade de France in Paris (2004-2006), London’s Wembley Stadium (2007-2008), Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium (2009) and Düsseldorf’s ESPRIT arena (2010-2011). The series is venturing outside Europe for only the second time in its 25-year history this weekend.

DRIVE exclusively will air the ROC at 7 p.m. (EST) on Saturday and Sunday in the United States on its YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/DRIVE.

Drivers scheduled to compete in the 2012 Race of Champions:

Sebastien Ogier, France, seven-time World Rally Championship driver and 2011 Champion of Champions

Ryan Hunter-Reay, United States, IZOD IndyCar Series Champion

Michael Schumacher, Germany, seven-time Formula One World Driving Champion

Sebastian Vettel, Germany, three-time Formula One World Driving Champion

Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, two-time MotoGP World Champion

Michael “Mick” Doohan, Australia, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion

Jamie Whincup, Australia, four-time Australian V8 Supercar Champion

David Coulthard, Scotland, 13-time Formula One grand prix race-winner

Tom Kristensen, Denmark, eight-time 24 Hours of Le Mans race-winner

Andy Priaulx, Great Britain, three-time World Touring Car Champion

Benito Guerra Jr., Mexico, 2012 FIA Production World Rally Champion

Romain Grosjean, France, current Lotus F1 driver and 2011 GP2 Series Champion

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 13 2012
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