IndyCar season review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

IndyCar season review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

IndyCar

IndyCar season review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

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A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and?yes, some troubling incidents, too ” mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.

The fact that the ?500? winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number?so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden. For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it’s?

7th ” RYAN HUNTER-REAY
Andretti Autosport Dallara-Chevrolet
Best finish ” 1st, Barber, Milwaukee
Best qualifying ” 1st, Barber, Sao Paulo, Mid-Ohio

Robin Miller writes?
Ryan Hunter-Reay’s season can be encapsulated in one, quick, devastating moment in Pennsylvania last July.

Coming off five podiums in six races, including a win at Milwaukee, the 2012 IndyCar champion was right back in the title picture and on a roll. After qualifying second at Pocono, he was among the front-runners when a routine pit stop turned into a game breaker.

Takuma Sato lost his focus and rammed RHR so hard it crippled his car and, as it turns out, his year as he was classified 20th. That started a slide of mechanical and on-track troubles and poor finishes which saw Ryan wind up seventh in the point standings.

?Things just spiraled downward after Pocono and it seemed like if something could go wrong, it did,? he reasoned.

The Texan-born Floridian-domiciled 32-year-old’s ranking wasn’t representative of how quick he was in 2013 ” garnering three pole positions, victories at Barber and Milwaukee and four other podiums. He qualified in the Top 5 a dozen times and led the second most laps (297) among his competition.

?I felt like we had one of the fastest cars at most places, we just had some misfortune that cost us,? he said.

Brazil was a good example of that. After setting a track record in winning the pole, RHR led 16 laps before encountering a flat tire and dropping to 11th. The pole-sitter at Mid-Ohio, he led 30 laps but a race that featured no caution flags turned into a strategy race and fifth was all he could muster.

And the season finale was more of the same as he charged from 11th to take the lead and stay front for 45 laps before overheating and another flat tire landed him in ninth spot.

But, as he was in 2012, RHR was formidable on road courses, street circuits, short and big ovals as he and engineer Ray Gosselin have meshed well with the Dallara DW12. He had more than enough speed to be a repeat champion, just nowhere close to the necessary racing luck.

Marshall Pruett writes?

What would an IndyCar season review be without Ryan Hunter-Reay, the king of abnormal circumstances?

Based on the results from his drama-filled career, winning back-to-back championships was always going to be a stretch. That said, Andretti Autosport’s lead driver didn’t exactly hand his crown to Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, but a combination of woeful reliability, weird problems and unforced errors saw the championship gap widen as the season moved into its second stanza.

Ultimately, it was the abnormal events ” the oddities that seem to strike the 32-year-old more than his title rivals ” and more driving errors than we’re accustomed to seeing out of RHR that left him seventh in the final standings. Across 19 races, nine finishes of 18th or worse should have left him parked outside the top-10 in the final standings. On the strength of the other 10 races, where he averaged a fourth-place finish, he kept his title hopes alive until we got to July. And when it began to unravel, it went quickly and without mercy.

His season started and ended in St. Pete with a failing throttle position sensor, leaving him 18th on the day and in a big hole to dig out from. He ran the table at Barber, claiming pole, leading 53 of the 90 laps to win his first of two races in 2013.

From a low at St. Pete to a high at Barber, another low was awaiting RHR at Long Beach. He qualified second, fell to last after a refueling problem and ended his day in the Turn 8 wall. So Three races in and RHR had been stymied by an electronics issue, a mechanical issue on pit lane and, in what would become an unusual trend, he made an unforced error which resulted in contact. Sandwiched between the three problems was a trouble-free sprint to victory. Ryan’s season would continue to play out in these three- or four-race clusters where brilliance was intertwined with maddening inconsistency.

He took the pole at Brazil, but finished 11th after a flat tire and a fuel-saving strategy blighted his chances, then finished an excellent third at the Indy 500 and second at Detroit 1, but crashed on his own at Detroit 2, leaving him 18th.

The next cluster was his strongest of the season. Second at Texas, a win at Milwaukee and a fight back from last “” after pitting to receive a new nose after making contact ” to take second put RHR back in the mix for the championship. Sitting nine points behind then-leader Helio Castroneves, RHR used that three-race swing to regain the ground he’d lost earlier in the season. But as the rear of his Dallara DW12 could attest, RHR’s bid to repeat as IndyCar Series champion took a major blow at Pocono. After being plowed into on pit lane by Takuma Sato while running second, RHR would retire, finishing 20th.

At this point, RHR’s championship efforts officially began to wilt. A wheel speed sensor malfunction wreaked havoc with his Chevy’s ECU on each pit stop during Toronto 1, causing the No. 1 to stall whenever he came in for service. He was running fourth on a late restart during Toronto 2, but was hit by Will Power which sent the two into the wall.

Pole at Mid-Ohio was turned into a fifth-place finish as RHR, Dixon and Power gambled on a two-stop strategy that proved unsuccessful. Another strategy gamble at Sonoma left RHR sixth after starting fourth.

The horrible run from Pocono through Toronto was mitigated by Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, leaving RHR third in the standings with four races left to run. The gap to Castroneves had grown to 62 points, but as Dixon would soon show, that wasn’t impossible to overcome. But at Baltimore the No. 28/No. 1 car parked with a dead battery (caused by a failed alternator), another fuel rig issue at Houston 1 led to a fire, then there was a gearbox failure in Houston 2 and a flat tire and engine overheating issues in the season finale at Fontana. He finished the year seventh, 108 points from champion Dixon.

Delete the silly, don’t-blame-him items at St. Pete, Pocono, Toronto 1 and 2, Baltimore, Houston 1 and 2, and Fontana, and we’re likely writing about two-time IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay right now. Tidy up the driving errors at Long Beach, Detroit 2 and Iowa, and his chances are further improved. RHR should have left Iowa with a monster championship lead and been in a position to play it safe over the final nine rounds. Fortune wasn’t his friend this year ” not in the way it rewarded his ballsy drives late in the 2012 season. Why throttle sensors, wheel speed sensors, alternators and fuel rigs always seem to fail on RHR is beyond me.

He’s among IndyCar’s elite: always in contention for pole, attacks relentlessly and is a threat to win on every track. Those same attributes just delivered Dixon his third title, and if the Racing Gods have any sense of fair play, RHR will have just as many by the time he hangs up his helmet.

David Malsher writes?
In recent years, it’s been Scott Dixon and Will Power who’ve had the largest deluge of misfortune rain down on them. This year, it was defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who somehow finished only seventh in this year’s title race despite, as predicted beforehand, driving even better this year than last.

And don’t listen to that B.S. about ?You make your own luck in this game.? What was RHR supposed to do about a throttle stuck open (St. Pete), a puncture leading to a compromised pit stop strategy (Sao Paulo), a rival who forgets the pitlane speed limit (Sato in Pocono), double anti-stall failure (Toronto 1), anti-stall and battery failure (Baltimore), refueling fire and gearbox failure in the two Houston rounds, flat tire and overheating issues (Fontana)? Ryan has become quite a positive guy in recent years, but even he must have rolled into venues wondering what the hell could go wrong this week.

He wasn’t perfect, of course. The Long Beach and Detroit crashes were his, and he held his hand up for those. The clash with Power in Toronto 2 was a 50/50; maybe RHR shouldn’t have stuck his nose around the outside of the No. 12 machine, but then he wasn’t to know that Will would get crossed up and require the whole width of track. And team strategy was his undoing at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.

And yet between these issues, he drove magnificently. The domination at Barber was awesome, as was the lap record for pole at Sao Paulo, an event he could have won. He was going to be a contender for victory at Indy had it run green to the checkers, he drove it like he stole it at Detroit 1, Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa (second, second, first, second respectively) and Fontana, the season finale, should have been a three-way fight to the flag between himself, Power and Charlie Kimball. But it almost feels wrong to highlight individual performances, because Hunter-Reay was in ” or contending for ” a top-four position almost every time Lady Luck kicked him in the ass.

What was most impressive, though, is that while the form of teammates James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti was very much car-dependent, Hunter-Reay was up there fighting with the Ganassi and Penske cars even as Andretti Autosport slipped from its plateau after mid-season. There should be no question that Ryan is one of the best drivers in this series, a victory contender at every venue. And given his age (33 in December), he and his race engineer Ray Gosselin should be battling with the Scott Dixon/Eric Bretzman and Will Power/Dave Faustino combos in IndyCar for another seven or eight years, with hopefully the trio continuing to drive for different teams.
And who knows? Maybe one year we’ll have a season where all three drivers simultaneously have the luck to match their talent and head to the finale level on points?

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