The Music City Grand Prix delivered a much-needed change of tune to the season for James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series campaign had been a punishing affair for Hinchcliffe. However, a strong qualifying performance in Nashville and a bold early call to go for an alternate pit strategy paid off handsomely with his first podium since Iowa in 2019.
Finishing third in the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, Hinchcliffe led home teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth, who also recorded his best finish the year to stem the tide of disappointments this year has brought.
In the case of the 34-year-old Canadian, his thoughts turned to the mechanics and crew who prepare the car that, prior to the Music City Grand Prix, had a 14th-place finish in Detroit as their top result.
“Such a strong result for the 29 guys and Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’ve had a rough year, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve had a lot of things go against us. We thought we were following the trend and got stuck in that traffic jam in Turn 11, but (race strategist) Brian Barnhart on the pit stand made a great call to get us in the pits. That sort of switched the race for us. We were saving fuel there at the end so we couldn’t really fight (second-place finisher) Scott Dixon there too hard. That two-lap sprint there at the end was exciting and happy to bring home a podium.”
Nashville, you beauty. Amazing event, amazing fans and amazing race! So happy for the 29 crew on the podium. The @CGRNEnergy @FollowAndretti @Follow_SRacing car, strategy and stops were on point fought back from the back and brought home some much deserved hardware. Onto Indy GP! pic.twitter.com/93i8S2DqD5
— James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown) August 9, 2021
Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport team also made good use of that early pit stop strategy to improve upon their previous best of 10th at Texas.
“It was a wild race as we expected here in Nashville,” he said. “We had a good day. We had some good strategy calls and good pace. Ultimately, we should’ve ended up on the podium, but just had a little trip up on pit lane. It was a good day for everybody all involved on the 28 DHL team.”
Their respective finishes of third and fourth provided a significant points boost leaving Tennessee, with Hinchcliffe rising from 19th in the standings to 17th, while Hunter-Reay improved from 17th to 15th. With five races left to run, more solid outings could bring the tandem closer to the top 10 by season’s end.