Ryan Hunter-Reay

Rossi and Hinchcliffe on podium. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi’s second, Marco’s fourth lead Andretti’s strong Toronto day

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It seemed only a matter of time before Andretti Autosport could bank a result worthy of their drivers’ improved performances this year, and it came Sunday in the Honda Indy Toronto with a bit of luck and a bit of pace.

Alexander Rossi was unlucky to roll off eighth in his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda – he and Takuma Sato were both caught out when the qualifying session restarted and it knocked them out of the Firestone Fast Six. Meanwhile from 11th and 16th, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay needed some help to make it up the order on Sunday.

Luckily it came in the form of a Lap 23 caution Sunday in the race. Once Tony Kanaan nosed into the Turn 1 wall, it brought out the yellow after a handful of the Andretti contingent had been into the pits for their first scheduled stops.

Sato was among those caught out by the yellow in fifth as he hadn’t pitted, but Rossi (10th), Andretti (13th) and Hunter-Reay (15th) had and suddenly found themselves poised to capitalize as a result of the jumbled sequence that would follow.

Rossi rebounded to a net second after the restart, behind leader and eventual race winner Josef Newgarden with Ed Jones and Charlie Kimball ahead but needing to stop, with Andretti and Hunter-Reay also into the top-10 following the shuffle.

They were able to stay there the rest of the race. Rossi wasn’t able to close enough on Newgarden to make a proper passing attempt, but was pleased with his first podium finish in IndyCar that wasn’t, well, that one at Indianapolis last May. Rossi hadn’t finished better than fifth in an IndyCar race outside of last year’s Indianapolis 500 so second was a needed result for him and the team.

“It’s been a long time coming. Now we can go to chase more wins,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt post-race. “I’m relieved we got the monkey off our back. To get this car where it needed to be was a huge effort. Very proud of Honda for their effort, and a huge shoutout to the fans.”

Rossi’s pre-race entrance. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi expanded on how many changes the team made from Friday to Saturday to even get the team in a good position.

“We were really at the bottom of the barrel, staring into the bottom of the barrel, I guess, Friday afternoon. We were really lost. We were the slowest, Andretti Autosport cars. Here is a tough place to be coming from to start off strong,” he explained.

“We had a lot of soul searching Friday night. We stayed quite a bit later at the in a long time. We just really analyzed everything that we could, and made some pretty solid changes overnight that suited me really well Saturday.

“If you look at where we were last year, the last four cars in qualifying, to having three cars in the top 10, really having something to fight for today, it’s a testament not only to this weekend and the strength the team has shown, but also this off-season and how much better 2017 has been for us, has been for Honda.”

Photo: IndyCar

Andretti admitted a bit of luck in ending fourth, but couldn’t express how much it was needed for both himself and the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda team, led by strategist Bryan Herta.

“It’s refreshing for sure. A trophy would have been fun. But I had fun today,” Andretti told NBCSN’s Anders Krohn. “The UFD car was great. It’s starting to put the fun back in this sport for me. Next goal for me is more hardware in the trophy case. He gave me the old go faster and save fuel, Bryan has put some fun back into it. It’s time to make this a regular occurrence going forward.”

Hunter-Reay ended sixth. Photo: IndyCar

Hunter-Reay enjoyed a combative bout with polesitter Simon Pagenaud in the final stages, Pagenaud finally making the pass in the final few laps for fifth place. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda then held off a bunch of others in the final couple laps as his car and tires fell off.

Speaking to NBCSN’s Robin Miller, Hunter-Reay said about the battle, “Yeah he gave me a nudge, I got back by him, I was loose in Turn 6, and I got in there pretty deep, he got by me. He was quite a bit quicker than me. But all in all, a good day. 2-4-6. Considering we started 16th, it was a good day.

“Some of the worst pickup I’ve ever experience with marbles It took four laps to get rubber off the car. It wounding turn! All in all I’m thankful to bring it home P6.”

Takuma Sato, who fell to 16th on Sunday, still is the best of the Andretti quartet in the championship, but has all but lost any title hopes after a rough patch of four races where he’s not finished better than 10th.

He sits seventh in points, 72 back of points leader Scott Dixon. Rossi is eighth, Hunter-Reay 13th and Andretti 14th.

Hunter-Reay: IndyCar’s 2018 car ‘heading in right direction’

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With the Verizon IndyCar Series a little under two weeks away from its first scheduled test of its new 2018 universal aero kit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay is pleased with the car’s near final renderings and potential “shield” addition.

The 36-year-old American, the 2012 series and 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion, has been a proponent of enhanced cockpit safety for some time and looks forward to seeing how the series gets on with its initial tests over the next couple months.

“I’ve only seen the preliminary mockups, but I think it’s heading in the right direction,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports on Wednesday.

“That’s something we need to put at the forefront. I love the new car challenge, getting behind the wheel and figuring it all out.”

Hunter-Reay has a long-term contract to drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 car – currently a Honda – through the 2020 season and will be one of the drivers who will likely lead the development of the new kit later this fall once testing ramps up.

As INDYCAR considers the potential of adding a shield design to the existing Dallara DW12 tub, with potential testing to begin later this fall according to Motorsport.com, Hunter-Reay described the challenges that come with that.

“The problem of a canopy is retrofitting one to an existing car, which is more difficult than building a car around it,” he explained.

“And then you have the cooling issue. At Iowa, we’re racing on a 92-degree day, and if the canopy would be up too high, there’s no air to the cockpit, so there’s cooling things they have to get around.

“But we have the best people in sport. I’m glad it’s progressing. I’ll say that I’m looking forward to ending the aero kit era.”

The 2018 car is an exciting new prospect for Hunter-Reay to think about since any championship hopes for 2017 are dashed – again – after a consistent spate of bad luck. Mechanical failures and incidents not of his own making have dropped one of the best overall drivers in the series to an unrepresentative 14th place in points.

Hunter-Reay is winless since Pocono in August 2015, a stretch of 28 races, and heads to Toronto this weekend looking to build off a third place finish this past weekend at Iowa.

Hunter-Reay noted how difficult street races are to call from the strategy box. Ray Gosselin, his race engineer, also doubles as RHR’s strategist.

“With street course strategies, I do not envy that,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “It’s unreal how tight the competition it is. And sometimes on a street course, from the car, you have no idea where you are in the big picture.

“In the long term, big picture side of it, I think we may need to address it as a sport. It can be so complicated as a sport. This guy’s leading, this guy’s second, there’s good battles for position, and then the yellow comes out and field gets completely flopped.

“I have friends who have watched IndyCar racing for years – and there’s times I have to explain it to them. It’s a complicated side of the sport, and sometimes it’s hard to follow on that side.”

Beyond his racing commitments, Hunter-Reay will co-host The RALLY Toronto on Thursday night with James Hinchcliffe, a party with proceeds benefitting RHR’s charity, Racing for Cancer. Hunter-Reay said this event is similar to The Yellow Party, a Racing for Cancer charity event held frequently in the past.

The two have partnered together on various philanthropic events before, Hinchcliffe often taking a week out of his winter to support Hunter-Reay’s Racing for Cancer event in December. About the only thing Hunter-Reay dreads is attempting to pronounce the foundation Hinchcliffe supports, the Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada (WMFC).

Hunter-Reay, and the rest of the 21-car field, compete in Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. Qualifying coverage airs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live race coverage from 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC.

Third place at Iowa ties season-best for Hunter-Reay (VIDEO)

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Prior to Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign could be described with such words as disappointing, difficult, challenging, and troublesome.

Brief highlights in the otherwise tough year include a fourth-place finish at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and a third-place at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but otherwise, Hunter-Reay’s season has featured eight finishes of 11th or worse, including three DNFs.

However, a strong history at Iowa Speedway, highlighted by three wins, left room for optimism ahead of Sunday’s 300-lap outing, and Hunter-Reay was able to deliver on that optimism.

Starting 15th, Hunter-Reay was on the move from the outset, climbing all the way up to seventh in the opening stint. He then cracked the top five just after lap 100.

Although he couldn’t quite muster the speed to challenge for the win, Hunter-Reay battled with the leaders the rest of the race and ended up in third at the end to match his best result of the season.

Speaking to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt afterward, Hunter-Reay explained that he and the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport team made a slew of changes to the chassis to improve its handling and speed, and their changes paid big dividends.

“We made a ton of changes. Credit to this team. When I got here it was so loose,” Hunter-Reay explained. “We made some changes. Only (one hour and 15 minutes) of practice. Made the most of it. Made the most for warmup and the race. Had too little front wing. But we got it dialed in there. I had the car that I needed, finally.”

Hunter-Reay added that it was nice to be fighting at the front again. “It was fun. Nice to be back on the podium. Great for DHL, Andretti Autosport and the 28 team. We’ve had two or three podiums. We just need the momentum,” he finished.

Hunter-Reay now sits 14th in the championship standings, 23 points behind tenth-place Max Chilton.

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Andretti Autosport endures tough Road America outing

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All four of the Andretti Autosport drivers encountered significant problems during the Kohler Grand Prix, and none of them were able to salvage finishes inside the top ten as a result.

Most notably, Takuma Sato endured the most difficult weekend of the four-car armada after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck on Saturday, which forced him to miss the morning warmup.

And things didn’t get any better during the race, as a lap 28 spin exiting the Kink saw him lose a lap and forced him to play catchup even more than he already was. Although Sato managed to finish the race, hardly insignificant given his neck injury, he did so in 19th after starting 20th in what proved to be his worst race since winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“It was a tough weekend and tough race,” lamented Sato. “I injured my neck during practice Saturday morning. We started in the back row, tried to make a push up, but I caught an accident. The engine was stalled and I wasn’t sure if we could continue, but the safety crew came and fired up the engine, so I came back to the pit, buckled again and I was able to keep going. In the end we made the finish, but we need a better weekend.”

His teammates did not fair much better. Alexander Rossi, who qualified a disappointing 15th, ran a four-stop pit strategy, and while he cycled into the top five at one point, an issue with the front wing saw him fall to 13th at the finish.

Alexander Rossi was fast Road America, but an issue with the front wing dropped him back in the field at the end. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we started with a good strategy, going for a four-stop race after starting 15th, but it all caught up to us on that first yellow,” Rossi explained. “Luckily, we had already gained track position and speed running on open track. We had an issue with our front wing, which ironically or not, is the same issue we finished the race with here last year, so we definitely need to figure out exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, too, had strong pace, even leading the Sunday morning warmup and running inside the top ten late in the race. But, contact with Charlie Kimball while battling for sixth broke the front wing on the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Hunter-Reay languished in 14th at the checkered flag.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was was 14th at the checkered flag after battling inside the top ten late in the race. Photo: IndyCar

“Charlie (Kimball) made a late block and took off my front wing. I had a good race going until Charlie moved out late like that, it’s just really unfortunate,” Hunter-Reay said of the incident.

Meanwhile, Marco Andretti battled a litany of problems, ranging from throttle issues to a broken pit speed limiter, which resulted in a drive-penalty for speeding during a round of pit stops. Andretti was a lowly 18th at the finish.

Marco Andretti battled a host of problems during the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“We started eighth, but ran into throttle problems. We went off track on the first stint because the throttle stuck wide open. We came into the pits to try to fix it and got hit with a pit lane speed violation because my pit lane limiter wasn’t working. We still weren’t getting full throttle – I was barely hitting sixth gear,” he lamented afterward.

Sato remains in the top five in the championship, now sitting fourth, 56 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Rossi sits ninth, with Andretti and Hunter-Reay 13th and 15th respectively.

 

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Hunter-Reay leads warmup at Road America

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A weekend that has been dominated by Chevrolet and Team Penske so far saw Honda jump to the top during morning warmup. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest for Andretti Autosport, followed by Max Chilton for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi ended the session third, making it a Honda 1-2-3 in the morning warmup.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest of the Chevrolet camp in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in fifth.

Only 19 of the 21 drivers turned laps during the session, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failing to put laps in. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda was suffering from fuel pressure problems that kept it in the garage, while Sato was feeling under the weather during the morning, and the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda team elected not to go out.

Coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

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