IndyCar 2016 driver review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing 12th in 2016 was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who endured a trying season filled with a range of emotions, and whose efforts were not done justice by the final results.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 97 Laps Led, 11.8 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish

Parallels will be drawn, slightly, between 2009 and 2016 for Ryan Hunter-Reay, who endured his toughest season yet in six full-time campaigns with Andretti Autosport since Michael Andretti threw him a career lifeline after that 2009 season. In 2009, Hunter-Reay went winless and finished 15th in points driving for two different teams. This year, his run of winning a race every year for the last six ended, and he ended 12th in points.

As ever though, stats will not tell the full story of Hunter-Reay’s campaign. A possible win or sure podium at Phoenix went by the wayside after ill-timed full-course yellows caught him out not once, but twice. He had a car capable of winning the Indianapolis 500 but saw his chances end with contact on pit road between he and Indianapolis 500 teammate Townsend Bell. Then a mechanical issue forced him to reset at Pocono before he stormed back to third in a rage of fury, ultimately so distraught by that third place because he knew it was his last best shot to win.

The signs were obvious this would be a tougher year when at places he usually stars, he was nowhere to be found. Long Beach – a track he rarely qualifies outside the front two rows – he was behind Carlos Munoz and had a nondescript 11th to 18th run. Barber, where he’s won twice, saw him in the final three rows of the grid. And then there was Iowa. At both Hunter-Reay’s and Andretti’s personal playground, it became a nightmare script with a crash in practice, 20th on the grid and an almost merciful engine detonation midway through the race.

In the face of the obvious challenges from the team standpoint – its qualifying and pace struggles were so pronounced – Hunter-Reay carried himself as well as ever and truly stood out as the team’s leader through its trying season. His final three weeks of the season were an utter whirlwind. A three-year contact extension with Andretti came along with sponsor DHL, he and wife Beccy had their third son, while Beccy then dealt with the painful news that her father, Bob, Ryan’s father-in-law, was found dead just days before the Sonoma season finale.

The one tenet of Hunter-Reay’s career is that if you knock him down, he’ll come back up even stronger the next go-around. His final standing does not showcase the fact he drove so much harder to try to make miracles happen – his passing and restarts were ridiculously good – and he was probably one of the top-five drivers of the year anyway. Look for the fighter to come out fighting even more in 2017.