Ryan Hunter-Reay endures St. Pete odyssey to finish fourth

Photo: IndyCar
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Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay would be hard-pressed to find a more challenging race weekend in his career than the one he faced at the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

One of a number of drivers battling brake and handling issues all weekend, Hunter-Reay looked like he might salvage a solid starting position in Saturday qualifying after he advanced out of Round 1. However, a glance off a concrete wall did enough damage to end his day in Round 2 and he could do no better than 12th in qualifying.

Race day would prove even more difficult. Hunter-Reay had likely the scariest moment of the weekend when he suffered rear brake failure entering turn 11, one of the fastest spots on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. The team confirmed it was a mechanical failure not temperature related.

Hunter-Reay speared off track, narrowly missing teammate Alexander Rossi, who was just ahead of him at the time, and into the tire barriers in the runoff area. Hunter-Reay was unhurt, but his No. 28 DHL Honda had severe damage to the front nose and right-front suspension assembly.

Still, the team completed quick repair work and the No. 28 machine was on the grid in plenty of time to start the 110-lap race. Alas, yet more issues befell them during the pace laps. Problems with the engine calibration meant Hunter-Reay could not get above pace car speed, forcing him to dive into the pits as the field was taking the green flag.

Shortly afterward, though, Hunter-Reay’s luck began to turn around. Contact involving Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball sent Rahal into a spin and put Kimball against the outside wall exiting turn 3, with Carlos Munoz also suffering damage in the melee and stopping on track. Their misfortune brought out a caution, which proved opportune for Hunter-Reay’s team. It allowed them to fix the engine calibration woes and Hunter-Reay rejoined the fight without losing a lap.

From there, the goal was to use strategy to get back to the front. The team was one of several to pit on the early end of the window (they pitted on lap 23) and they caught yet another break with a lap 26 caution for debris off the cars of Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin.

Seven cars were forced to pit under the yellow and Hunter-Reay cycled up into the top ten. From there, the former champion and Indianapolis 500 winner ran a smooth, calculated race and began slowly working his way forward, eventually climbing up to sixth as the final stint began.

He then capitalized on an ailing Will Power to crack the top five and made a last-lap pass on teammate Takuma Sato to eventually finish fourth.

On a normal weekend, a fourth-place finish is a strong result. On a weekend like the one Hunter-Reay had, it was as good as a win.

“It was a wild weekend,” Hunter-Reay detailed after the race. “From the ups and downs of braking issues in second practice and then warmup this morning, we definitely earned this one. We fixed engine calibration issues early on (in the race), got out in front of the pace car by about a second or two keeping us on the lead lap. To finish today fourth was just awesome.”

The 36-year-old described that he had to drive the No. 28 machine for all it was worth to make it back to the front, something he actually relished. “We had a lot of fun out there driving every last drop out of the car, and it’s great to be back in the role and into the swing of things. Hopefully we can get the DHL Honda team back on the podium where we belong, but a fourth-place finish is a good start.”

In all, Hunter-Reay leaves St. Petersburg enthusiastic about the team’s potential in 2017. “This whole team has done a great job; Andretti Autosport has been working hard. We had some great pace, showed good promise and I’m looking forward to the next race.”

That next race is one Hunter-Reay loves at Long Beach, which you can see April 9 on NBCSN.

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list