Catching Up With Ryan Norman
 October 17, 2018| 
  • Series News
Catching Up with Ryan Norman 2018

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Norman was happy to conduct his rookie Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires campaign in 2017 relatively under the radar. The 2016 SCCA Pro Formula Atlantic champion finished 11th in the standings while capturing the season-long Tilton Hard Charger award for gaining the most race positions.

The 20-year-old Ohio native, who sports a livery courtesy of primary sponsor Journey (as in the legendary rock band), came into 2018 with every intention of building on that learning curve, with three veteran teammates alongside. The four-driver lineup at Andretti Autosport this season – Norman, eventual champion Patricio O’Ward, runner-up Colton Herta and Freedom 100 pole sitter Dalton Kellett – accounted for 14 wins, 14 poles and 32 podium finishes, with Norman reaching his season goal by earning his first series victory.

From the outset, Norman had a plan in place, much like the one successfully implemented by 2017 champion Kyle Kaiser.

“If you look at guys like Kyle Kaiser, in a three-year program, the first year is mainly about learning the tracks, the team and the car,” said Norman. “The second year is about making strides in development and getting better all the time. Then in the third year, you go out and make a run for the championship.”

Norman looked to be on pace with his development trajectory, scoring a podium finish in the second race of the season in St. Petersburg, Fla. But a mid-season lull that saw him finish with a string of mid-pack tallies had the young driver ready to shake things up. Happily, podium finishes at Toronto and Mid-Ohio were a harbinger of things to come.

“I think that the second half of this season was a real mindset change for me. I knew that if I was going to come back for a third year and go for the championship, I would need to impress some sponsors. I was getting very frustrated with finishing fourth and fifth, and after the podium at St. Pete, I really wanted to get back there. I knew I had the car to do it so it was time to win. I had a real soul-searching moment, figuring out how to make that jump. It was the perfect timing, that with two weekends left I was able to make it happen. I really had to dig down and go for it.”

And go for it he did. Starting second at Gateway alongside Herta, the Freedom 100 winner, Norman knew his chances for that first victory were running short. The ensuing battle between the teammates was one of the highlights of the year. 

“We were racing each other hard. Obviously he had the championship on the line and I had nothing to lose. I wanted that win so bad; I didn’t want to finish second, even though that would have been my highest finish of the year. That didn’t matter. To be honest, I was going to go for the win or put it in the wall trying. But the amount of respect that we have for each other really helped. I was able to trust in his ability to race clean as I did with him. It wouldn’t have been good for teammates to crash each other out! But it’s that way across the series. There is no question about talent in this series, and everyone respects each other.”

Norman went on to take his first series pole at the Portland season finale, though he learned a hard lesson at the race start – “I was going a little too fast, so now I know better. It’s a tight Turn One with no room for two-wide, much less six-wide. But it definitely made it interesting!”

He kept that momentum going as the off-season began, setting the quick time at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month.

One essential learning experience for Norman was the 2018 championship battle. He had a front row seat as teammates O’Ward and Herta exchanged the lead for much of the season. Despite the inherent tension that comes with the championship pressure, Norman believes the fact that all four drivers got along so well and helped each other along the way helped alleviate some of that pressure.

“I think it was good for all of us to have the championship battle inside the Andretti tent. Pato and I are good friends and we have a very similar driving style, so I was able to look at his data and really learn a lot. They’re both very talented and I think it helped minimize my learning curve.

“I believe that’s why we were so dominant this year. The four drivers and the four engineers on the team got along so well and helped each other out so much and it just kept growing. That showed in our performance, the fact that we had four drivers and all those data sets put together.”

As the off-season begins, Norman is working toward finding additional sponsors, conducting meetings and creating marketing information. But he does plan a bit of fun along the way.

“I’m going to take the offseason to do more traveling. I went to the F1 race in Singapore, which was such a cool event. And I’ll try to go scuba diving with my dad, who lives in Florida. I’m going to try to get to an Ohio State football game and spend more time with my friends at home, who I haven’t seen all summer.”

And as for Year Three of the plan? Norman isn’t ready to declare himself the pre-season favorite quite yet, but he knows what he needs to do to make his dream of earning a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series a reality.

“I’ll go out next year and do the best I can and hopefully it will work out. I will need to focus on getting max points at every race, at finishing on the podium and not putting the car in the wall. Staying consistent will be key and getting the best results I can, and hopefully that will be enough for the championship.”

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