Although he ended with a flourish and leapt from 14th to sixth in the final 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Ryan Hunter-Reay didn’t have the easiest season last year in his No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.
The 35-year-old Floridian is usually a championship contender, and as one of only four drivers with both a series championship and an Indianapolis 500 win (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya), it was weird to see him fail to contend for the majority of 2015.
Hoping that’s an anomaly, Hunter-Reay is determined to be better in 2016, and he’s optimistic the Honda aero upgrades for next year will be enough to see him and Andretti Autosport back in contention on a more regular basis.
He’s already had several tests this offseason at Road America and Mid-Ohio.
“I think it’s good for the sport, and the racing, to see the upgrades,” Hunter-Reay told MotorSportsTalk, in advance of his pacing the field during the Rose Bowl parade later this week in an Acura NSX. “On roads, streets and short ovals, we’ll be stronger for sure.”
Part of the optimism has come from the aero updates permitted by INDYCAR’s allowing of Rule 9.3, which allows a manufacturer to close a gap to its competitors.
Honda was outclassed by Chevrolet at the Indianapolis 500 race – Hunter-Reay was a non-factor this year after his incredible win and late-race pass of Helio Castroneves in 2014 – and really wants to improve there.
“We’re working on for a similar package, including the Indy 500. We’re focused on that. Rule 9.3 didn’t apply there. There were a lot of Chevys up front at end of the Indy 500. Hondas done a great job of progressing on roads, streets and short ovals, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Hunter-Reay learned of the decision for the Indianapolis 500 and Sonoma to continue to pay double points – as both did in 2015 – and is fine with it at Indianapolis at least.
“I’m a fan of the Indy 500 being double points, but I don’t think any other should be,” he said.
Meanwhile he also has a confirmed partial season sports car season with Visit Florida Racing, which he’s been able to do in recent years but not as much in 2015.
He’d raced with the SRT Viper program in 2014 and Wayne Taylor Racing and Level 5 Motorsports in 2013 for his sports car cameos. Last year, he only made a single start at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Starworks Motorsport.
But the Visit Florida program reunites Hunter-Reay with past SRT teammates, and fellow Florida residents, Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens in a move that makes sense for all parties. Hunter-Reay will run at Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta as third driver, and will sub for Dalziel at Long Beach, where he will pull a unique double duty role.
“That’s a huge opportunity to work with the VisitFlorida.com team,” he said. “The Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 are extremely important. I have been second twice; once overall, and once in class.
“It’s one that I think it s avery important part of career. We have such a strong driver lineup, with Marc, Ryan and myself. Both of those guys are close friends. To team with them is a huge opportunity.
“Long Beach will be interesting. I’m going to do limited practice and then starting the car. My focus will be on IndyCar. But I’m tasked with doing the best job possible to fill in for Ryan Dalziel.”