Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the first to admit it was a rough 2016 season for himself and his Andretti Autosport team.
For the first time since 2009, he failed to win at least one race in a season (although he did earn three podium finishes).
Even worse, he recorded the second-worst season finish in his Verizon IndyCar Series career, ending in 12th. That’s the lowest showing since he finished 15th, also in 2009, and that year saw him bounce between two teams.
However, all was not gloom and doom: the 2012 series champion ended this season on a high note, finishing fourth in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
“It’s nice to have a decent finish, but if we’re not stepping on top of the podium, we’re not really doing the job,” he said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a tough season at times, lots of missed opportunities, but we have done the job sometimes and we need to redouble our efforts.”
Hunter-Reay will get plenty of opportunities to redouble his efforts going forward, as he signed a contract extension prior to Sunday’s race. Instead of 2017 being the last year of his current deal, he’ll now be with Andretti Autosport for four more seasons, through 2020.
Primary sponsor DHL, which has graced the side of Hunter-Reay’s race car since 2011 (and has been with the Andretti group since 2005), will also remain with the team for the next four seasons, as well.
“I’m very happy about this, and obviously it’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Hunter-Reay said. “Just been a wild ride the last week.”
Indeed, it was, one of blissful happiness followed by unspeakable tragedy.
Hunter-Reay’s wife, Beccy, gave birth to their third son on Wednesday, a joyous gift that came two days before Beccy’s birthday.
Sadly, however, less than 24 hours later came news from California that Beccy’s father – off-road racing legend Bob Gordon – and his wife were found dead in what police believe to be a murder-suicide.
“Beccy is doing amazing, she’s strong,” Hunter-Reay said. “Focusing on a new baby has been a blessing at this time. It’s amazing she is, how strong Robby has been, her sisters Robyn and Haylee. It’s blown me away because this is nothing you can compare to, this isn’t as simple as a life passing.”
While the grieving and healing will take a long time, at least Hunter-Reay – who is the most successful active American driver in the IndyCar Series with 16 wins, 36 podiums, a win in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and the afore-mentioned 2012 championship – knows his racing future is in good shape.
“When it comes to getting in the car and opportunities, I’m a fighter,” he said. “I was on the brink in 2006, 2007.
“(I) was maybe a month away from going and doing something else with my life. Every time I got in the car, I knew I had to prove myself immediately. It was never a two-year deal where I could take my time developing.”
So, while he struggled for much of this season, Hunter-Reay came up a winner nonetheless Sunday. It may not show up in this year’s standings, but he’ll now have plenty of time to get back to his old form.