The start of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season hasn’t been kind to Ryan Hunter-Reay. The Andretti Autosport driver sits a disappointing 17th in points as we near the midway mark of the season this weekend on the streets of Belle Isle.
Hunter-Reay, was collected in a first lap crash in the season opener at Barber in April. He was only 14th in Race 2 on the streets of St. Pete. He was 16th and 12th respectively at Texas to be followed by a 12th place result in the GMR Grand Prix at Indy.
But, with double points on the line for the upcoming 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, Indy was a spot that Hunter-Reay saw as time for a reset. He was quick in practice, qualified his No. 28 Honda in the Fast Nine and looked for most of the race as a contender.
Then, he had a brake problem coming to pit road on his final stop which promoted a speeding penalty. He went from a sure top five to a 22nd place result.
“I saw Indy as being the reset and it looked like it was panning that way, it was heading in that direction until we had the brake issue there on the last stop,” Hunter-Reay said on Wednesday morning. “So it’s unfortunate. We put together a great month of May and really had a solid race going on there, but that’s really, it happens.
“Geez, we went through the whole, let’s call it the whole month, really strong, put a grip program together, put the car in the Fast Nine, ran up in the top six or seven early on, then the top four later, and I was thinking, this is a perfect place to be in, we’re not using too much fuel. Yeah, and then the brake situation, and it’s all over. And that’s Indy.
“Like I’ve probably said, everything has to be perfect, everything has to go exactly to plan, and if one thing doesn’t, that could be what derails the whole effort.
“Really unfortunate. I think at least we would have been third when it all shook out, and hopefully be there to fight Alex and Helio at the end. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. So that was really hard to take that. A real gut punch for the next week after Indy. Just seems like no matter how we put our best foot forward at the moment, it doesn’t seem to pan out, but it’s coming.”
Now we head to Belle Isle this weekend, a place where Hunter-Reay says is another great spot for them since he’s been good there in the past and with two races in two days, it’s essentially double points.
“If we can hit the ground running like we it in 2018 and 2019 in Detroit, it would be a huge opportunity for us to kind of, like you said, reset the season,” he continued.
On top of that, these upcoming tracks are good ones for the American driver. He was four straight top five results in Belle Isle including a runner-up and a win during the 2018 race weekend. Then, it’s to Road America to where he’s had three top four results in five tries. After a week off, it’s back at it for Mid-Ohio to where Hunter-Reay has five straight top eight results and eight top 10’s in his last nine tries. His last three finishes there are third, fifth and third respectively.
“Yeah, I think the second half of the season the races that are coming up are usually our stronger races,” he told me.
In terms of where he sits in the points, is the rest of the year more about finding momentum or is it swinging for the fences in going for wins? The first two goals of every season is an Indy 500 win and a season championship. He obviously didn’t win the ‘500 and a championship seems far out of reach. So, what are the goals moving forward? Do they get adjusted?
“Now that the 500 is gone, it’s just all about posting results,” he continued to me. “We want to get back into the winner’s circle. We want to post some wins, obviously. Our last win was 2018 Sonoma, so with the abbreviated season last year and no street course racing, we’re really looking forward to this opportunity. So definitely eager to get back to Detroit. Like I said, it’s an opportunity awaiting us.”
Does he think Andretti as a whole though is struggling? I mean, he’s not the only one behind in points. He has company with Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe too.
“I don’t think so. I mean, Colton just won at St. Pete, right, but yeah, last year was not a good year for us as a whole, and for the whole team points-wise, and then you look at this year again, we’re struggling to keep cars in the top 10 at the moment,” he said on that.
“Yeah, it’s not coming easy, but the second half of the schedule I think suits Andretti’s strong suits. Hopefully that will go that way. It was unfortunate to see Toronto drop off the schedule, but then again, maybe a double at Mid-Ohio will be a better compromise for us.
“We’re looking forward to the second half of it.”