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Hunter-Reay: IndyCar’s 2018 car ‘heading in right direction’

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With the Verizon IndyCar Series a little under two weeks away from its first scheduled test of its new 2018 universal aero kit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay is pleased with the car’s near final renderings and potential “shield” addition.

The 36-year-old American, the 2012 series and 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion, has been a proponent of enhanced cockpit safety for some time and looks forward to seeing how the series gets on with its initial tests over the next couple months.

“I’ve only seen the preliminary mockups, but I think it’s heading in the right direction,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports on Wednesday.

“That’s something we need to put at the forefront. I love the new car challenge, getting behind the wheel and figuring it all out.”

Hunter-Reay has a long-term contract to drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 car – currently a Honda – through the 2020 season and will be one of the drivers who will likely lead the development of the new kit later this fall once testing ramps up.

As INDYCAR considers the potential of adding a shield design to the existing Dallara DW12 tub, with potential testing to begin later this fall according to Motorsport.com, Hunter-Reay described the challenges that come with that.

“The problem of a canopy is retrofitting one to an existing car, which is more difficult than building a car around it,” he explained.

“And then you have the cooling issue. At Iowa, we’re racing on a 92-degree day, and if the canopy would be up too high, there’s no air to the cockpit, so there’s cooling things they have to get around.

“But we have the best people in sport. I’m glad it’s progressing. I’ll say that I’m looking forward to ending the aero kit era.”

The 2018 car is an exciting new prospect for Hunter-Reay to think about since any championship hopes for 2017 are dashed – again – after a consistent spate of bad luck. Mechanical failures and incidents not of his own making have dropped one of the best overall drivers in the series to an unrepresentative 14th place in points.

Hunter-Reay is winless since Pocono in August 2015, a stretch of 28 races, and heads to Toronto this weekend looking to build off a third place finish this past weekend at Iowa.

Hunter-Reay noted how difficult street races are to call from the strategy box. Ray Gosselin, his race engineer, also doubles as RHR’s strategist.

“With street course strategies, I do not envy that,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “It’s unreal how tight the competition it is. And sometimes on a street course, from the car, you have no idea where you are in the big picture.

“In the long term, big picture side of it, I think we may need to address it as a sport. It can be so complicated as a sport. This guy’s leading, this guy’s second, there’s good battles for position, and then the yellow comes out and field gets completely flopped.

“I have friends who have watched IndyCar racing for years – and there’s times I have to explain it to them. It’s a complicated side of the sport, and sometimes it’s hard to follow on that side.”

Beyond his racing commitments, Hunter-Reay will co-host The RALLY Toronto on Thursday night with James Hinchcliffe, a party with proceeds benefitting RHR’s charity, Racing for Cancer. Hunter-Reay said this event is similar to The Yellow Party, a Racing for Cancer charity event held frequently in the past.

The two have partnered together on various philanthropic events before, Hinchcliffe often taking a week out of his winter to support Hunter-Reay’s Racing for Cancer event in December. About the only thing Hunter-Reay dreads is attempting to pronounce the foundation Hinchcliffe supports, the Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada (WMFC).

Hunter-Reay, and the rest of the 21-car field, compete in Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. Qualifying coverage airs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live race coverage from 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC.

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.