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.

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Indianapolis 500 weather forecast: Rain chances decreasing for start

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the green flag keeps approaching for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the chances of clear skies Sunday keep increasing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The chance of rain at the start of the race was down to about 30%, according to the wunderground.com site as of late Saturday night, and the forecast seemed good until late afternoon when the odds of precipitation rose to about 80%.

If the race starts on time at12:45 p.m. ET, that should be a long enough window to run the full 500 miles and certainly an official race (102 of 200 laps).

With Indiana on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and a 9:02 p.m. sunset on race day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said the green flag probably could be held as late as 6 p.m. if a worst-case scenario of bad weather hits.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch

“We ran the NASCAR race (in 2017) almost right up to sunset,” Boles said. “The challenge of getting closer to sunset is just getting people out when it’s still light. The race itself is more than 2 hours and 40 minutes so you have to back-time yourself.

“We’ll sit down with IndyCar over the next 24 hours and at least have that in the back of our mind. If there’s a window to get it done, our intent would be get it in Sunday, so we would want to go as late as we could.”

Boles said National Weather Service representatives are on site this weekend to help with forecasting. Regardless of if there still is a threat of rain, the track will start the race on time as long as the surface is dry.

“I can’t imagine we’d postpone the start because we think it might rain,” Boles said. “If it’s not raining, we’re running the race.

Boles said track officials are monitoring Sunday’s weather daily but won’t discuss any potential contingency plans until Saturday night. Regardless of whether it’s raining Sunday morning, some pre-race ceremonies likely will remain in place.

“It’s hard to speculate on what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s likely Sunday morning will be the first time that we have any definitive statement on what we think is going to happen. Instead of giving you information that we don’t know what it’s going to be like, I’d rather wait until that Sunday when we see the conditions, and we’ll let you know.

“Obviously, if it’s raining, then we’ll have to decide what the next steps are.”

Boles said Indiana weather traditionally is unpredictable, noting that qualifying was completed last Sunday despite predictions of a complete washout.

“Last year the prediction was it was going to rain on race day, we got up next morning, and it was perfect,” Boles said. “It just changes so rapidly around here.”

Should it rain, IndyCar officials will make every reasonable attempt to run the Indy 500 on time,. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also recently used a new sealant on the track surface which makes it quicker to dry the racing surface.

During the previous 102 runnings of the Indy 500, there have been 12 impacted by rain: three complete postponements; two partial postponements and seven shortened races.

So what happens if it does rain? Some options:

Rain-shortened race

The Indy 500 could turn into the Indy 255. If more than 255 miles (102 laps) are completed in Sunday’s race, the race can be deemed official. If the race is called, driver’s finishing positions are based on their position in the race at the time of the caution flag for rain.

The Indy 500 has been shortened by rain only seven times, most recently in 2007. The race was stopped nearly three hours because of rain on Lap 113 and was declared officially over with Dario Franchitti in the lead when rain again hit at the 415-mile mark.

Partial postponement

If fewer than 102 laps are completed Sunday, the race will resume on the next dry day. With most Americans on holiday Monday because of Memorial Day, a partial postponement still might allow for a healthy audience at the track and watching on NBC.

The race has been partially postponed only twice in the 102 previous runnings, in 1967 and 1973.

Complete postponement

Fans shouldn’t worry too much about a complete postponement of the race, as it has only happened three times, most recently in 1997. If rain completely postpones the Indy 500, the race will be rescheduled for the next day with the start time dependent on the forecast.

The 1997 race ran 15 laps on Monday before rain again postponed the remainder of the race until Tuesday. The 1915 and ’86 runnings were postponed until the following Saturday.