LONG BEACH, California — As a 12-season NTT IndyCar Series run at Andretti Autosport comes to an end, Ryan Hunter-Reay is upbeat about the future of his career.
A few hours after his replacement at Andretti formally was introduced, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 vowed that he “absolutely” would be in a race car again.
“I’m all smiles, absolutely, racing at one of my favorite racetracks in IndyCar,” Hunter-Reay said Friday after turning the fifth-fastest lap in the opening practice for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. “You can either go through it with a big smile on your face or you can just be mad and kick the can all the time. That’s how I’ve always been, enjoy it, go forward with a positive attitude, that’s what I’m doing for sure.
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“I’ll be 41 in December. I still feel like I’ve got race wins in me. Yeah, just the right opportunity and the right situation, and we’ll see where that leads.”
For the first time since the 2010 season, the path will lead away from Andretti Autosport and the No. 28 Dallara-Honda (which will be driven by Romain Grosjean next year).
What started as 3 races grew to over a decade of success. Over the next 2 weeks, @RyanHunterReay will turn his last laps as our #INDYCAR teammate. Thank you, RHR, for 15 wins, an Indy 500 victory & Series title. Always a champion, always a friend.
🎥: https://t.co/YhvhHZwgZy pic.twitter.com/2vFeuTAU83
— Andretti Autosport / #AllAndretti (@FollowAndretti) September 14, 2021
Though the news became official Sept. 14, Hunter-Reay said Friday that he and car owner Michael Andretti had agreed last November that the 2021 season would be his last with the team.
During the news conference with Grosjean, Andretti also noted the move had been planned in the offseason while praising Hunter-Reay’s commitment to the team.
Hunter-Reay said he had wanted to change Andretti’s mind with his performance this season (“If you hit a stride, things can be reworked”), but that hope faded over the course of 15 races with no podiums (and a best finish of fourth at Nashville).
.@michaelandretti starts off today's presser thanking Ryan Hunter-Reay for his time & contribution in the No. 28 DHL car:
"Thanks for all the great years we spent together. This was something planned before the season. Shoutout to him. He'll always be part of our family."
— Nathan Brown (@By_NathanBrown) September 24, 2021
“It’s been coming for a while,” Hunter-Reay said. “Going into this year we knew this was our last year together. I’ve been with this team for 12 years, have been with the same engineer longer than I’ve been married, and I’ve got three kids, so go figure that one out. Definitely been here a long time.
“In sports, in business, anything like that, everything evolves. It always does. Change is inevitable, and it’s a good thing usually. I think it’s definitely a good time to shake things up. I wish Andretti Autosport, Romain and (sponsor) DHL the best. I’m looking forward to that next chapter and the challenges that lie ahead.”
After winning twice in Champ Car, Hunter-Reay moved to IndyCar in 2007 and raced for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing before joining Andretti. He scored 15 of his 16 victories in IndyCar with the team.
Hunter-Reay’s career straddled “The Split,” which broke IndyCar racing into two separate series from 1996-2008 and left drivers and teams scrambling for sponsorship and stability.
Ryan Hunter-Reay leaves Andretti with the series on an upward trajectory, and he noted the future while sitting on a stage Friday alongside young stars Colton Herta, Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden.
“Obviously we had a great run,” Hunter-Reay said. “We checked all the major boxes off. Certainly some got away at times.
“It’s definitely great to see where IndyCar is headed with this group up onstage, what they have coming over the years to come, all the interest in IndyCar.
“I was coming up in karting, and right when I sat in my first car, ‘The Split’ happened. Man, that was a long recovery back. I’ve been in the trenches the whole way. To see it where it is now is absolutely fantastic. To compete up at the front for a race win here this weekend is really what I’m here for. It’s the only thing that matters.”
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native said he took the most pride in “having to claw my way through” in becoming an IndyCar stalwart. Despite missing the 2006 season, he returned and kept making the most of his limited auditions.
“I raced for like 12 different teams, something crazy,” he said. “Driven for all of them, Andretti, Rahal, Foyt, you name it I’ve been there. It’s been tough. That’s what’s really made me. ‘Hey, here is a two-race opportunity, go make do with it what you may.’ I had to be fast, keep care of the car, bring the results home.
“It made me the driver I was throughout the championship fights, throughout all those wins and stuff like that. Absolutely, I wouldn’t want to do it another way.”
Fittingly, one of those moments happened at Long Beach, where he won April 18, 2010 in only his fourth start with Andretti.
“It was make-or-break time, for sure,” Hunter-Reay said. “We came out at (the season opener in Brazil) and finished second. At this race we won. It was huge. I didn’t know at the time, but our sponsor was IZOD. They were on for three races. It’s L.A. Everybody was here. They had Mark Wahlberg out, the whole thing. It was fun. We won.
“Yeah, we got the call that week that we’re going to a full season. Haven’t looked back since. Won the team’s only championship in 16 years. Now we’re sitting here talking about that next chapter. It’s definitely some great, great memories.”