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.”
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”