SONOMA, California – It was the least noticed victory of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s career. That doesn’t mean it was insignificant.
While the attention Sunday at Sonoma Raceway was focused on the Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders, Hunter-Reay quietly dominated the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, leading 80 of the race’s 85 laps for the 18th win of his career.
“Seems like the day is a lot longer when you're out (in the lead) because you just want to end the race,” Hunter-Reay said. “‘Can it please end now? Can it please end now?’ All in all, it was a good day.”
Hunter-Reay’s dominance in the No. 28 DHL Honda could be traced to Saturday’s qualifying session, when he knocked Scott Dixon from the No. 1 spot to claim his first Verizon P1 Award at Sonoma Raceway and seventh of his career. He took off at the start of Sunday’s race as Dixon, one of four contenders for the championship, took a more conservative approach.
The pole position turned out to be the crucial element in Hunter-Reay’s victory. He surrendered the lead only during pit stops and controlled the pace throughout.
“Any time on a road course, especially on a road course, qualifying on pole is a big deal,” Hunter-Reay said. “It can be a game changer for you. It can be a race changer. You want to take advantage of that from there, control the pace of the race, control and dictate when the stops are. Everybody kind of goes off the leader when he stops. That's what we did.”
Dixon, who finished second in the race to win the championship over Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, never pressed Hunter-Reay for the lead of the race. The result was a 2.7573-second margin of victory and a win that let Hunter-Reay finish fourth in the final standings.
He admitted to a few close calls while leading, including a quick correction when the car lost grip in the rear and tried to spin in Turn 2 early in the race.
“But nothing was overly strenuous or stressful,” Hunter-Reay said. “When you have a good car like that, you can just maintain. I just knew I had to keep myself from making any little errors.”
The victory let Hunter-Reay break a tie with Danny Sullivan, Tony Kanaan and Ralph Mulford and move to 26th place alone on the all-time victory list. It also was his first win in 12 attempts at Sonoma, which won’t be on the IndyCar Series schedule in 2019.
“I'm going to miss this place,” Hunter-Reay said. “It's unbelievable. All these years I've been trying to win here. Now we win, and we're not coming back. We seem to have the secret, the setup now, and we can't use it.”
The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner also dedicated his latest victory to Robert Wickens, who posted a video before the start of Sunday’s race while recovering from injuries sustained in a crash last month at Pocono Raceway.
“Hopefully he’s back with us as soon as possible,” Hunter-Reay said.