Ryan Hunter-Reay

IndyCar: Title contender Hunter-Reay suffers setback in Toronto Race 1 (VIDEO)

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Ryan Hunter-Reay was seeking to get closer to the top of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship today, but was knocked out early in today’s Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto after an incident with Tony Kanaan.

On Lap 39 of 65, Hunter-Reay and Kanaan were racing for fifth position as they both went into Turn 3. On the outside, Hunter-Reay tried to go side-by-side through the corner but contacted Kanaan’s rear wheel guard, which then pitched him into the outside wall.

The No. 28 Andretti Autosport crew tried to make repairs to the car and get Hunter-Reay back in the race, but ran out of time.

Per IndyCar rules, teams are not allowed to push a car out of the paddock area with less than 10 laps remaining.

“I was next to T.K. through the corner, and then just kept coming left,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN.

“I knew I was getting the squeeze job, but I thought he’d leave me a little bit of room there and we just ran out of real estate.”

With that, Hunter-Reay lost 32 critical championship points and fell back to fourth in the standings. He is now 64 points behind leader Helio Castroneves as the second Toronto race looms later today (coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Hunter-Reay added that he was looking forward to the final stages of the race after some early struggles.

“We had some issues with the first set of tires there,” he explained. “We just overshot the pressures on them and it really fell off. We were running second, really happy with the car, and then just started struggling with it. But I got on new reds and I was really looking forward to that stint.”

Kanaan went on to finish third and claim his third podium of the season for Chip Ganassi Racing. After the race, he felt that he was in the clear regarding blame for his incident with Hunter-Reay.

“I think we’ve been coming here for many years, and we all know that only one car’s gonna fit through that turn,” he said of the deceptive Turn 3. “I was the car in front, so – whatever happens behind me, I have no idea.

“I felt a little bump and I look in my mirror, and he was gone. I kept my line and I move forward. Obviously, he doesn’t have the same opinion…But I’m not worried about it.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish

The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.

The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.

A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.

Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.

After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.