These are the quieter months for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but Ryan Hunter-Reay’s days are anything but that.
From testing Monday with Ed Carpenter Racing to meeting regularly with prospective sponsors to juggling the athletic schedules of three sons – and yes, the 2012 INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner is a volunteer coach like the rest of us – there is little time to pause.
“Football, baseball, soccer and golf, and they’re doing hockey and karting, too,” Hunter-Reay said of the extracurriculars of sons Ryden, Rocsen and Rhodes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I’m coaching football and karting, the only two (sports) I really know.”
What Hunter-Reay, 40, doesn’t know is where he will drive in 2022, although the success of Monday’s test with Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber Motorsports Park could suggest he could be in one of its Chevrolets next season. Hunter-Reay said he felt good with the team, which includes two engineers and a crew chief he has worked with in the past, in the day-long test that included three Indy Lights products (David Malukas, Kyle Kirkwood and Devlin DeFrancesco) and 10-year Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg.
“A great opportunity to all get together, for me to work with them and for them to work with me,” said Hunter-Reay, who has won INDYCAR SERIES races with four different teams. “Now, we’ll have to assess the situation and see (what’s next).
“I’m in a good position, and it has to be the right decision for me and the team. I need to pick what’s really best for me moving forward because I can still win a lot of races. I absolutely know that.”
This is certainly a unique time in Hunter-Reay’s life. He spent the past 12 seasons with Andretti Autosport, usually in DHL’s yellow-and-red No. 28 Honda. In addition to winning a season championship and the “500,” he won 14 additional races and six poles with Michael Andretti’s Indianapolis-based team, assembling one of the series’ best stretches over that span of years.
Given how much of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES fixture Hunter-Reay has been over the past decade-plus, it’s easy to forget that job security wasn’t always there. After driving for three different teams in his three Champ Car seasons, Hunter-Reay went without a ride for nearly two seasons, with 49 races staged by Champ Car and the INDYCAR SERIES. Finally, in the 12th race of the INDYCAR SERIES’ 2007 season, Hunter-Reay got a call from Bobby Rahal to replace Jeff Simmons for the race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He finished seventh and hasn’t looked back.
Hunter-Reay has been as dependable as the sport has ever had, competing in 239 consecutive races, the fourth-longest streak in INDYCAR history. His total number of starts stands at 282 races, No. 10 all-time. Until Josef Newgarden won the Mid-Ohio race in July, Hunter-Reay was the active leader among U.S.-born drivers with 18 career INDYCAR wins.
Additionally, Hunter-Reay has been among the best drivers on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval, adding five top-10 finishes to his “500” victory in ’14. Among drivers in the 2021 Indy 500 field, only Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud have led more laps in the event than Hunter-Reay (163), and Hunter-Reay is the only driver to pass Castroneves for the lead effectively on the final lap.
In May, Hunter-Reay again was in contention to win, running third as he entered pit road on Lap 173 for his final stop. But the brake pedal went to the floor, a failure in the rear master cylinder, and the issue led to a return to the pit box on the ensuing lap. He salvaged what he could from there, finishing on the lead lap in 22nd place.
Remember, Hunter-Reay had qualified seventh, the second year in a row he had earned a spot in qualifying’s Fast Nine Shootout.
“I’ve absolutely got a whole left at the tank at Indy,” he said.
The job at ECR likely is to share the No. 20 Chevrolet with owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who competes on the oval tracks, plus a ride in the “500.” Hunter-Reay is open to that arrangement, but there are other opportunities he is considering, as well.
“The door’s wide open after being in a crowded room for 12 years,” he said. “I’m looking around, and it’s fun.”
And busy at the same time.
RHR’S INDYCAR CAREER STARTS
Andretti Autosport (2010-2021): 198 (15 wins)
Rahal Letterman Racing (2007-2008): 23 (1 win)
American Spirit Team Johansson (2003): 18 (1 win)
HVM Racing (2004): 14 (1 win)
A.J. Foyt Racing (2009, 2011): 12
Rocketsports (2005): 11
Vision Racing (2009): 6