That Ryan Hunter-Reay can look back upon his 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season favorably has the Andretti Autosport driver thinking longer term about his racing future.
The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda has always had the desire to compete. In 15 years of Indy car racing, the only other time he has finished better in the points than his fourth this season was when he won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2012.
How much longer does the Floridian want to race? He sounded invigorated during last month's Victory Lap Celebration in Indianapolis.
“I would love to say seven years more,” he said. “I turn 38 this offseason, so I have plenty more in me. I’ll take it as I go. My contract runs through the end of 2020, and I’m confident I’ll be competing for championships through that, so I think there’s more beyond that. How far that goes, I don’t know. You take it as you go. I still feel like a kid.”
The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner finished this past season strong by dominating the season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, where he led 80 of the 85 laps for his 18th career victory. The win moved him past Danny Sullivan, Tony Kanaan and Ralph Mulford into 26th on INDYCAR’s all-time victory list.
Earlier in the season, Hunter-Reay snapped a 42-race winless streak with a victory in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
“We had two firsts and four seconds,” Hunter-Reay said of his season. “Any time we didn’t have an issue, we finished at worst fifth. Yeah, it was a good season. We need to trim off the DNFs or the bad results. We were a championship contender this year. We know what we need to do to fix that for next year so we can be fighting for the championship at Laguna.”
For so much of the previous two years, Hunter-Reay lamented too many missed opportunities. He can’t help but think about the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Take your pick on which year he was convinced he had the car to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” a second time only to see it slip away.
“We’ve had a lot of woulda, coulda, shouldas over the last three years, even this year,” said Ray Gosselin, Hunter-Reay’s long-time engineer. “At Indianapolis this year, we just got beat. You can accept that. But what happened in 2016 and 2017, we struggled to accept that. We’re kind of biased, but we had the car to beat. I think we’ll run into each other 30 years from now and still talk about 2016 and 2017 at Indy.”
Hunter-Reay shakes his head when thinking about it.
“Those are the big fish that got away. They were right at the boat,” the avid angler said. “The circumstances that took us out of those races were really out of our control. Those were two of the best cars we’ve ever had. That’s why it hurts.”
And there was also the 2013 Indianapolis 500, when Hunter-Reay had the lead before a late restart. He wishes he would have just blocked Tony Kanaan on that restart.
“All he did was pass me in Turn 1 and won the race,” Hunter-Reay said.
Andretti Autosport made some wholesale team changes before 2017. Rob Edwards was promoted to chief operating officer after two years as director of engineering and race operations. Eric Bretzman, who won three series titles and the 2008 Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, was hired as technical director. And former Josef Newgarden engineer Jeremy Milless became Alexander Rossi’s engineer.
As much as Hunter-Reay has ascended since then, Rossi has been even better, finishing a career-best second in the points to Dixon this past season.
“We push each other very hard, and that brings our game up,” Hunter-Reay said. “All four of the teammates at Andretti Autosport constantly push each other.”
Marco Andretti finished ninth in the points, three spots better than the previous year. Newcomer Zach Veach, in his first full-time season, was 15th.
“I think we’re the best racing show on television and it comes down to the competition,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s one of the most if not the most competitive series in the world.”
Hunter-Reay referred to a recent statement made by Chip Ganassi.
“You know when a guy like Chip Ganassi races in INDYCAR, NASCAR, sports car racing, IMSA and the Le Mans side of it, when he says this is by far the best racing in the world, you’ve got to take note of that,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a really great time to be in INDYCAR. You know if you do really well here, it means something.”
And Hunter-Reay sees himself being a part of that for many more years to come.