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.