After a disappointing run at the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Ryan Hunter-Reay remains confident about the second half of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, starting with this weekend in the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit.
Hunter-Reay expected the Indy 500 to be better after earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Nine Shootout in Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying, starting seventh in the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.
“I saw Indy as being the reset,” said Hunter-Reay. “And it looked like it was panning that way. It was heading that direction.”
And it did look like Indy could have been the reset his team needed, as he got off to a hot start by running in the top seven early. He ran as high as fourth until an issue occurred with the front brakes on his final pit stop.
“I was thinking, ‘This is the perfect place to be in; we’re not using too much fuel.’ And then the brakes situation, and it’s all over,” Hunter-Reay said. “And that’s Indy. Like I’ve always said, everything has to be perfect. Everything has to go exactly to plan, and if one thing doesn’t, that could be what derails the whole effort.”
What Hunter-Reay thought could be a top-three finish along with winner Helio Castroneves and runner-up Alex Palou ended up as 22nd.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way,” Hunter-Reay said. “So, that was really hard to take that. A real gut punch for the next week after Indy.”
Another tough race was tacked on to what has been a disappointing stretch for the 40-year-old driver. He has not won a race since the the 2018 season finale at Sonoma Raceway, a dry spell of 38 races. It’s the second-longest span without a win during the career of 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Hunter-Reay.
“Definitely disappointed coming out of Indy,” Hunter-Reay said. “It just seems like no matter how we put our best foot forward at the moment, it doesn’t seem to pan out.”
Despite the continued struggles, “Captain America” remains optimistic about the second half of the INDYCAR season.
“The races that are coming up are usually our stronger races, but now that the ‘500’ is gone, it’s just all about posting results,” Hunter-Reay said. “We want to get back into winner’s circle; we want to post some wins.”
With six races under his belt in 2021, Hunter-Reay’s second half begins this weekend with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader Saturday and Sunday, the headline races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Belle Isle in Detroit (both races live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).
“Detroit is a great opportunity for us with double points,” Hunter-Reay said. “If we can hit the ground running like we did in 2018 and 2019 in Detroit, it would be a huge opportunity for us to reset the season.”
Detroit has been a successful race for 2014 Indy 500 winner Hunter-Reay, as it is where he broke his longest winless stretch – 42 races – by capturing Race 2 of the 2018 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.
“I’m looking forward to going and racing in Detroit,” Hunter-Reay said. “I’ve won there in the relatively recent past, so I look at that as: ‘Hey, this could be an advantage for us. Let’s go get it.’”
But he does acknowledge the challenges that come with a street circuit like Detroit.
“It’s always a moving target,” he said. “With as competitive as the series is, you miss just a little bit of mechanical grip here and there and you’re struggling to put it in the top 10.
“I know the potential is there, we just need to execute. We need to come out swinging right from the start. With the abbreviated season last year and no street course racing, we’re really looking forward to this opportunity.”
And when asked if he would continue the tradition he created by hopping into the James Scott Memorial Fountain if he won this weekend, Hunter Reay-sounded more than prepared to rinse off the rust.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I'll be in there. I'll have my mask and snorkel handy.”