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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IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is so special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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