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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

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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.

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

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