IndyCar: Tough season ends on a high note for Ryan Hunter-Reay

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As easy as Ryan Hunter-Reay made winning Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma look, his season was anything but.

He won the pole at Sonoma Raceway, ran a mistake-free race, led 80 of the 85 laps and crossed under the checkers 2.75 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon – who earned his fifth IndyCar championship with his second-place finish.

The win was special, because Hunter-Reay’s season was less than smooth.

Back-to-back fifth-place finishes at St. Petersburg and Phoenix in the first two races of the season landed him fifth in the standings. But an accident 13 laps from the end of the Long Beach Grand Prix would put Hunter-Reay on a seesaw that lasted all the way to the final race of the year at Sonoma.

Hunter-Reay was running at the end of Long Beach, but four laps off the pace in 20th. Two weeks later, he finished 18th in the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Poor finishes in those two races, dropped him all the way to ninth in the standings.

Hunter-Reay had a big hill to climb – and he started that ascent the next week with a fifth-place finish in the Indy 500. That kicked off a five-race streak of top-fives that included a second-place finish and a win at Belle Isle. Before he was done, he could see the top of the hill – landing second in the points after a runner-up finish at Elkhart Lake.

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote – and Hunter-Reay’s sanity was put to the test in the subsequent five races with three DNFs and four results outside the top 15.

The seesaw ended on the high side, however. Hunter-Reay led 19 laps and finished second in the penultimate race of the year two weeks ago at Portland, Oregon.

Ending the season with back-to-back podiums resurrected Hunter-Reay’s year. The season that began fifth in the points ended in fourth.

“This team is just awesome to end this way.” Hunter-Reay said from victory lane on NBCSN.

He couldn’t have said it better.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

IMSA’s Bill Auberlen joins NASCAR America to discuss this weekend’s race at Lime Rock

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Turner Motorsport GTD driver Bill Auberlen joined NBC Sports’ Marty Snyder on NASCAR America Presents the Motorsports Hour Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race at Lime Rock Park.

Auberlen, alongside co-driver Robby Foley, enters Lime Rock with a great amount of momentum after finishing on the GTD podium at Watkins Glen and taking the GTD class honors in the most recent IMSA race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

There’s also an extra incentive for the duo to win this weekend as well, as Auberlen is one win away from tying Scott Pruett for the most IMSA victories all-time.

Both drivers will have to be on their A-game this weekend, however, as Auberlen stated that Lime Rock is one of the tougher circuits on the IMSA calendar and compared the 1.5-mile Connecticut road course to a short track.

“It’s what we call the bullring of our season,” Auberlen said. “It is a 54-second lap and we’re going to go around it a million times before the end of the day. It’s going to be a hot one, and I think whoever survives this is going to be on the podium.”

Luckily for the GTD and GTLM teams, with no Protoype and LMP2 entries competing at Lime Rock this weekend, the worry of having to yield to entries from the faster classes is gone.

“These Protoypes are so fast now, that interacting with them, you can’t imagine,” Auberlen said. “We have radars in our car that can alert us when they are coming.

“They get on you so fast that if you’re not always looking or something is not telling you they’re coming, you could have a problem and catch into them. That’s gone. Now it’s going to be focus-forward. You’re going to be focused on everything ahead of you. You got GLTM in there at the same time, but they’re virtually the same speed as us – just a little bit faster.

“It’s going to be nice. When you stand on that podium you might be able to go for an overall victory.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter