The great story telling trilogies are well-known. “Star Wars,” “Back to the Future,” “Star Trek II – IV” and the one about walking somewhere with a ring come to mind.
Then there’s the Ryan Hunter-Reay trilogy. The 2014 Verizon IndyCar season saw the Andretti Autosport driver put together an impressive story, starting with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park and culminating in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Hunter-Reay led 40 laps before winning the Barber race under caution for his first victory over the year. Then came the Month of May, where the American nearly swept the races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished second in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10, then led 56 laps and came out on top in his late-race duel with Helio Castroneves to win the Indy 500.
“I think it definitely helped build some momentum, we went to Barber last year, won that, and it was really a special one because it’s the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and we won for Honda,” Hunter-Reay told media Wednesday. “Bringing that No. 28 Honda into victory lane was pretty special. That set the tone … It was a pretty good stretch, I think, for us as a team, and hopefully we can get going on the same tone here this year.”
Hunter-Reay and his No. 28 DHL team need lightning, or luck, to strike again for them at Barber, a 17-turn, 2.3-mile permanent road course in Birmingham. The team is coming off a rather disappointing trilogy of races in the vein of “Transformers” to begin 2015. It started off well enough with a seventh-place finish at St. Petersburg, but hit a wall at NOLA in a three-car wreck that resulted in finishing 19th and receiving a points penalty from IndyCar.
Much like the trailers for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” Hunter-Reay supporters were given hope with his first Firestone Fast Six of the year at Long Beach. However, the weekend disappointed, as Hunter-Reay only managed to place 13th.
Does Barber represent the new chapter for Hunter-Reay and Co. that Long Beach only teased? What can they expect from a track that Hunter-Reay has won the last two IndyCar events at? How likely is it Hunter-Reay can be the first to win three-straight races at a track since Will Power in Saõ Paulo from 2010 through 2012, completing yet another trilogy?
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. I’m not really sure,” Hunter-Reay said. “Obviously we’re dealing with a completely different car now, a different package, so things are going to need to be reworked a bit. We didn’t have the best test that you could imagine at the Barber open test, but we certainly found some things that worked and I think we found a direction.”
Prior to Hunter-Reay’s two wins, Power also won two-straight races at Barber in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he finished fifth.
IndyCar teams convened in Barber in mid-March for two days of four practice sessions, one of the first opportunities to test the new aero kits. Hunter-Reay had the fastest lap time for Andretti Autosport at 1:07.8494, but that came in the second session and overall was only the 14th fastest time of the weekend.
Should Sunday’s race not be rained on, it will be the first time the series will get a real bearing on what the new aero kit can do on permanent road courses in race conditions. The first attempt at NOLA was hampered by and shortened due to rain. There’s currently an 80 percent chance of rain and storms on Saturday, but just 10 percent for Sunday
“Sunday looks like it’s going to be clear, and I definitely think the track record would fall if it’s a dry session,” Hunter-Reay said. “I definitely like getting around Barber in the wet, as well. So I’m good for either way.”
Barber also differs from NOLA in its elevation changes, where the latter is a flatter track.
“I think we’re making some progress,” Hunter-Reay said. “This weekend in Barber will be another step in that direction, and it’s a completely different track.”
Hunter-Reay and his team will take anything different at this point in the season and will work to make their experience at Barber one that starts a more compelling story.