Ryan Hunter-Reay has experienced the exhilaration of a dominating race victory in his Indy car career and now of “stealing one.”
Hunter-Reay holds Indy car records for most and consecutive race laps led and laps led by a race winner of 250 at Milwaukee in the Champ Car-sanctioned event on June 5, 2004, for his second career victory.
Hunter-Reay also nearly matched 13 others who have led a single lap and won, most recently by Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe at Sao Paulo in 2013. Hunter-Reay led the final two laps in winning the Iowa Corn Indy 300 presented by DEKALB on July 12. His previous low was nine laps led in earning his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory in 2008 at Watkins Glen.
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Tony Kanaan led a field-high 247 laps but couldn’t stave off Hunter-Reay, who pitted for fresh Firestone Firehawks on the No. 28 DHL car on Lap 284 under caution. Hunter-Reay advanced seven positions in six laps following the restart on the .894-mile, variably-banked oval – turning his fastest race lap of 179.405 mph on Lap 296 – to catch Kanaan’s No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car on Lap 298 and overtake on Lap 299.
“I’ve learned in the years of experience that I’ve had in the Verizon IndyCar Series that you just have to keep your head in it,” said Hunter-Reay, who posted his third victory of the season. “No matter what, you have to charge hard and be ready for it. Whether it’s a street circuit, short oval, races can turn. We made the right call and we had the car that could take it.”
Kanaan’s tire degradation was pronounced as he dropped 2 mph each lap from 176.103 mph on Lap 298 to 172.597 on Lap 300. The hard-charging Josef Newgarden, who also was on fresh tires when he took the green flag on the final restart in 11th position, overtook Kanaan to tie his career best of second place. Kanaan, who has led a combined 325 laps in the past two races, earned his fifth consecutive podium finish at Iowa Speedway.
“I don’t want to say I was sitting there smiling in the car, but it was a lot of fun,” Hunter-Reay added. “I don’t know how to describe it other than to me it felt like a video game because you’re picking them off. It was just like warp speed. Cars were just flying by one after the other. I knew we had a shot at it, but that was pretty cool how it ended. I didn’t think we’d have enough time.”
There are six races over the next seven weeks for Hunter-Reay to make hay in the championship. He reclaimed third place in the standings with the 14th victory of his career – 32 points behind the front-running Helio Castroneves of Team Penkse. Will Power is nine points out of first place.
A streak akin to 2012, when Hunter-Reay won consecutive races at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto to aid his title pursuit, would place him in solid contention heading into the Triple Crown series double-points season finale Aug. 30 at Auto Club Speedway. Last year on those three racetracks, Hunter-Reay won at Milwaukee, was runner-up at Iowa but finished 18th and 19th in the Toronto doubleheader after qualifying in the top six for both races on the temporary street circuit.
The Honda Indy Toronto – twin 85-lap races with Race 1 on July 19 featuring a standing start – is up next (3 p.m. ET both July 19 and 20 on NBCSN). Both races carry full points. The ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest is Aug. 17.
“We’ve just been historically good on short ovals,” said Hunter-Reay, who extended Andretti Autosport’s winning streak to five years at Iowa Speedway. “The record looks really good. We got a win out of it, making the right call. But we’re going to go back and do some homework for Milwaukee.”