Hunter-Reay hopes to turn season around at Iowa Speedway

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NEWTON, Iowa – It’s not that Ryan Hunter-Reay is having a bad season, it’s that it has so far been “under the radar.”

The popular driver from Florida is usually involved in some fierce battles at the front of the NTT IndyCar Series. After his 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto, he is seventh in the standings, 149 points behind the leader, Josef Newgarden with only six races remaining.

Luckily for Hunter-Reay, one of those contests is on one of his better race tracks – the .875-of-a-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

Watch the Iowa 300 live on NBCSN on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Hunter-Reay has three wins and five podiums (top-three) in 11 starts. He drove to victory in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and was third in 2017. He started third at Iowa last year but finished 19th, dropping out with suspension failure after 283 laps in the 300-lap contest.

“We’ve got three wins there; hoping to make it four,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.com. “I love that track. We’ve had a difficult time there lately. Hopefully, this team as a whole can get back to our winning ways there.

“Short oval racing is always very difficult, especially with the bumps at Iowa. It’s difficult to get the setup right and the teams have a lot of respect for that because of that reason.”

Iowa is the middle race of a very important three-straight weekends of racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. It began with last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and concludes with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 28 before taking another break.

“Three-in-a-row, mid-season, can definitely turn the whole season around,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’re all thinking wins right now. Newgarden has the most wins right now, and we all have to fight that gap, plus the lead two drivers have to trip up as well.

“You have to come into the season ready to go and be ready week-in and week-out.”

Newgarden has a four-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

While those drivers are leading the battle, the other contenders in the championship such as Indy 500, INDYCAR GP and Toronto winner Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Will Power have to “win or else.”

To some race fans who say, “Isn’t that the point of racing – to win?” When an IndyCar driver says that, it means racing with bolder moves and strategy.

It means playing offense more than defense.

“We are taking more risks,” Hunter-Reay explained. “At this point, you are gambling more on strategy, you are taking moves you otherwise wouldn’t do if you were points racing.

“For us, we are focusing on winning. We had two wins in 2018. Our last win was 10 races ago, so we need to get back to it.”

Hunter-Reay continues to fight back from a season-opening 23rdat St. Petersburg when he dropped out of the race with mechanical issues. He also finished 17thin the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Other than that, his season has been solid with a third-place finish at Circuit of the Americas in March as his best finish of the season.

In June, Hunter-Reay had reasonable month including a fifth-place and fourth-place in the two races that make up the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a fifth at Texas Motor Speedway and an 11that Road America.

But this is Ryan Hunter-Reay, the man called “Captain America” of IndyCar at one point because he was the first driver from the United States to win the IndyCar title in 2012 since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006. When he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, he was the first driver from the USA to claim that since Hornish, also in 2006.

Since his Indy 500 win in 2014, some top drivers from America are challenging him for that title including 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Hendersonville, Tennessee and the spectacular emergence of 100thIndianapolis 500 winning driver and weekly thrill-show star Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, California.

“We’ve been in the top-five quite a bit this year, we just have to break through,” Hunter-Reay said. “At Road America, we had a fast car all weekend, but qualifying went pear-shaped. We started 15th, fell back to 18th, then had to fight our way to try to get into the top-10.

“We have to start up front and finish up front.

“I need to get the job done behind the wheel.”

 

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.