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Hunter-Reay bullish on Andretti manufacturer choice, whichever it is

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One of the key dominos to the Verizon IndyCar Series silly season prognosticating for 2018 is whether Andretti Autosport will stick with Honda or switch to Chevrolet for its powerplant.

Luckily for its second longest tenured driver in Ryan Hunter-Reay, with the stability of a long-term contract in place with the team and with DHL and having had success with both manufacturers, it doesn’t particularly matter.

Hunter-Reay is one of only three full-time drivers on the grid who have both an IndyCar championship (2012) and an Indianapolis 500 victory (2014) on his resume (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan) and achieved them with separate manufacturers.

Andretti’s team went with Chevrolet when engine competition came back into the series in 2012, while the team switched back to Honda in 2014 as Chip Ganassi Racing went the other way from Honda to Chevrolet.

“It’s funny; I’m an Andretti Autosport driver and a DHL brand representative. But on the engine front, I’m usually one of the last to know!” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.

“Michael takes care of the business decisions. So I have a great relationship with both brands, and have won with both manufacturers. And we’ll keep our head down and focused. The only goal is to win races, regardless of which engine is powering us.”

Hunter-Reay is thankful to be solidified in his place at Andretti Autosport as the team – perhaps – and the series in general is poised for a busy “silly season” of movement, depending on the manufacturer selection.

Despite starting out with a limited number of races only with the team in 2010, a key win at Long Beach helped lay the groundwork for Hunter-Reay’s eventual consistent tenure driving the No. 28 DHL car – which became No. 1 in 2013 after he won the previous year’s title.

Considering from 2003 to 2009, Hunter-Reay’s open-wheel career took a variety of twists and turns, he’s appreciative of the support shown by all that has kept him gainfully employed.

“It’s been so nice. Obviously it’s been good to be in a position to work to be at Andretti Autosport, starting in 2010. But with more success with DHL; that started to accumulate. Then I became a DHL brand ambassador. They’re family to me,” he said.

“We’ve won a good amount of races, a championship and an Indy 500, but we need to do a lot more. We’re all so hungry. There’s no comfort or complacency in any way being here, but it’s nice knowing I’ll have the 28 DHL car for several more years to come.”

Pocono is a critical cross point for Hunter-Reay as he comes to this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), as it’s the two-year mark since his most recent win in the series at this race. He probably could have won last year had it not been for a mysterious electronics glitch that knocked him to the back of the field, before he recovered to third.

With Andretti Autosport having captured three of the six 500-mile superspeedway races since the manufacturer aero kit introduction in 2015 – Hunter-Reay at Pocono that year, then Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato in the last two Indianapolis 500s – the team must be considered a favorite heading into this weekend’s race.

Especially, perhaps, if it might mark the team’s last superspeedway race for the foreseeable future with a Honda powerplant in the back.

INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.