Ryan Hunter-Reay ‘all smiles’ and no regrets in leaving Andretti; optimistic about future

Ryan Hunter-Reay future
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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.

ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Details for watching Sunday’s race

FRIDAY PRACTICE REPORT: Palou third; O’Ward 16th

“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).

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).

“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.”

The 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will be the 239th start of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s IndyCar career and his last at Andretti Autosport (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

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.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”