The inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix roars to life Friday in Nashville with the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice set for 4:10 p.m. (ET), and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is ready for the challenge this new street circuit will present.
The past couple of seasons haven’t gone as Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport would have liked, with Colton Herta the only driver in the organization to have won an INDYCAR race. Alexander Rossi last won at Road America in 2019, and Hunter-Reay’s most recent trip to victory lane was at Sonoma Raceway in the final race of the 2018 season.
“It’s a clean sheet of paper,” Hunter-Reay said of this 11-turn, 2.17-mile temporary street circuit. “We all get to go out there and get after it for the first time.”
Hunter-Reay said no one will have an advantage heading into the 75-minute first practice airing on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ live streaming service – not even Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, a Nashville native and resident.
In fact, Hunter-Reay expects the hometown hero to face more pressure than normal to perform in Sunday’s 80-lap race (5:30 p.m., NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network). Hunter-Reay, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, felt that additional motivation to win the Champ Car World Series race in nearby Miami in 2003, yet he finished 12th.
“I think it’s a pressure that comes with a home race,” he said. “I felt in (in Miami). Like, ‘Man, it would be really unique, really cool to win here at home.’ St. Pete is my kind of de facto home race now. It’s four hours from where I live, but it’s my home race and I’ve always wanted to win it for that reason.”
It should be noted that Hunter-Reay’s first victory as an Andretti Autosport driver came in 2010 in Long Beach, California, a short drive from where he lived at the time in Dana Point. So, it can be done.
Seventeen of the 27 drivers in this weekend’s event have won at least one INDYCAR race, so Hunter-Reay knows the competition will be fierce.
“I think as a whole team, we need to find our stride again, (all of) Andretti Autosport,” he said. “Colton has done a great job with that win (in St. Petersburg) at the beginning of the season, but yeah, I think (Rossi) is obviously one of the top INDYCAR drivers as well and he hasn’t won in (31) races, and I haven’t won in (41). We’ll see. We’re working on it, trust me.”
Hunter-Reay joined Michael Andretti’s Indianapolis-based organization for the 2010 season, and he has earned 15 of his 18 career victories in an Andretti Autosport car. He acknowledged that there is an argument for making a change, although he said nothing is firm for 2022.
“Sometimes you need to shake it up,” the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda said. “Sometimes there needs to be change, and I agree with that. Michael said that, as well. The team has to find a stride, and we’ll see what that entails.
“I’ve had a great time with (the organization), and we’ll see. Maybe it continues; maybe it doesn’t. I put the most pressure on myself, and within our 28 team we are there to win races. When we’re not getting that done, we know we’re not getting the job done, and we’ve got to work harder and we’ve got to find why and when and where. We need to make it happen.
“All of the rest of it kind of shakes out in the wash, I think.”
But Hunter-Reay expects to race in INDYCAR next season.
“For sure, at some point,” he said. “I don’t know to what extent that is or what options there are. We’re working on those right now. They’re in discussions. They’re constantly moving and shaking.
“We’ll see. Depends on how enticing and attractive one versus the other may be. Yeah, I’ve got to make some decisions on that side and also have to continue the communication on all fronts.”