MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. American Ryan Hunter-Reay endured his second straight winless campaign but rebounded to a top-10 points finish with a strong, and gritty, end to his season.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2016: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 97 Laps Led, 11.8 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 9th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 72 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 11.1 Avg. Finish
Ryan Hunter-Reay produced a nearly identical statistical season in 2017 as he had a year previously, but improved three spots in points. Two gut-wrenching DNFs cost him possible wins or for sure podiums at two of his favorite races in Long Beach and Indianapolis; meanwhile Hunter-Reay produced a gritty, determined drive at Pocono to end eighth there a day after being in the hospital following a heavy accident in qualifying.
With “RHR’s” race engineer Ray Gosselin freed from his overall technical director duties at Andretti Autosport thanks to the arrival of Eric Bretzman, Gosselin and Hunter-Reay could afford to focus on their own setup entirely. It largely paid dividends over the course of the year.
The year-to-year turnaround from a challenging 2016 season where qualifying was often miserable was remarkable to see. Hunter-Reay continued in his role as team leader, with Alexander Rossi moving up the ascendancy thanks to his own second year development.
And Hunter-Reay ended strongly, with six of his eight top-10 finishes – all between third and eighth place – coming in the final seven races of the season. That propelled him from a season-worst 15th place in the standings up to ninth.
It seems hard to believe given his talent level and longevity in the championship as the most successful active American driver, and as one of only three full-time drivers with both a championship and an Indianapolis 500 win (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan) that “RHR” has only finished in the top-five in points once in his career – his championship year of 2012. He still remains an elite driver in this series, even despite his now two-plus year winless drought, and will be one to watch next season.
Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.