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.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.