Ryan Hunter-Reay has bigger goals than simply snapping a losing streak.
The 37-year-old Hunter-Reay had been running well this year, but his victory in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit was his first IndyCar win since 2015. It capped an impressive weekend that also included a second-place finish on Saturday. He has six top-five finishes through eight races of the Verizon IndyCar Series the season, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before he ended his drought.
Now his mind is on the IndyCar standings. He’s in fourth place, 31 points behind leader Will Power.
“I have to just keep chipping away, chipping away,” he said. “If you keep finishing in the top three, top five, top three, top five, wins, that’s how you challenge for a championship, so that’s what we’re focused on doing.”
Hunter-Reay was the series champion in 2012 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. From 2012-14, he won nine times, but after two more victories in 2015, the dry spell began. While he wasn’t irrelevant, he didn’t finish higher than third for the next two seasons.
Hunter-Reay led a combined 80 laps at the Indy 500 in 2016 and 2017 but finished out of the top 20 both times.
Now he’s off to a strong start this season, and IndyCar’s new race cars are to his liking.
“At times with the aero kit, the manufacturer aero kit, we might have struggled a little bit. Our team did, and we just weren’t firing on all cylinders for some reason,” he said. “But now again with a universal aero kit, we’re right back on a level playing field again, just like we left off in `12, `13 and `14.”
Hunter-Reay began the year with two top-five finishes, and he added a second-place showing in Alabama in April. He finished fifth at the Indy 500, then headed to Detroit.
In the first of two races at Belle Isle last weekend, Hunter-Reay came in second to Scott Dixon. It was a strong race for him, but the losing streak continued.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We came up close.”
There was still another chance Sunday, and Hunter-Reay made the most of it, chasing down teammate Alexander Rossi late in the race and eventually passing him when Rossi went sliding toward the runoff area on a turn. From there, it was smooth sailing. Hunter-Reay won easily.
It was an impressive weekend for Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Marco Andretti finished 2-3-4 in the first Belle Isle race, then Hunter-Reay overtook Rossi to win the second one. Hunter-Reay was asked where Sunday’s performance ranked in his career.
“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” he said. “I mean, I’ll always put 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast.”
It was an emphatic way to end the weekend – and perhaps send a message about the rest of the season.
“I know I have the talent to win the races, and just have to think positive. I’ve got the best job on earth, so I come and show up in the morning and there’s a yellow car there with my name on the side of it, and I go to work as an IndyCar car driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “I absolutely knew we could get back in Victory Lane, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”