After 2013 near-miss, Hunter-Reay confident ahead of this year’s Indy 500

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It seems like Ryan Hunter-Reay has been overlooked somewhat going into Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 and it’s a bit strange to wonder why that’s the case considering that he almost won the whole thing last year.

The American came close to drinking the milk, but was jumped on a restart with three laps to go by both race winner Tony Kanaan and Carlos Munoz before a crash triggered a yellow and caused him to finish in third place.

Hunter-Reay will roll off 19th for Sunday’s race after a sub-par qualifying session, but believes that his piece for Sunday is capable of delivering so much more.

“There’s a bit of a gut feeling,” he said today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I do feel pretty confident in the car I have under me for sure. We weren’t too happy with the qualifying effort, but the race car is awesome.”

If so, Hunter-Reay will have the chance to end a hectic Month of May on a high.

He and the rest of the IndyCar contingent have had to prepare for and race the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course, then go into ‘500’ practice and qualifying immediately after. And the day following qualifying, they had to go back into their cars again for a special practice session designed to have teams focus on race set-up.

“I think that was the most consecutive days that I’ve strapped myself into a race car,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think it was almost two weeks in total. For sure, there were some stressful times…It’s been busy and the crew’s been busy as well – it’s just been non-stop, so we’re looking forward to Sunday and just getting the main show on with it.”

Like many of the other drivers, Hunter-Reay is counting on the draft to play a major role in Sunday’s outcome. However, there is the matter of warmer temperatures for this year’s running, which could have a notable impact on equipment.

“Being 20 degrees warmer ambient this year should play a factor in handling of the race cars, so you might see that come into play,” he said. “I’m not quite sure though. One thing’s for sure – these cars punch a big hole in the air and create a massive draft. And I think everybody’s going to be nose to tail for a while.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.