Ryan Hunter-Reay made an appearance in the NBC commentary booth for the morning practice Saturday for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach that was livestreamed on Peacock.
The 42-year-old Floridian is set to drive the No. 23 Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in next month’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The task at hand today, though, was getting a taste of calling some NTT INDYCAR SERIES action with several drivers with whom he’s shared the grid.
Hunter-Reay shared the booth with Marty Snider on play-by-play and analyst Townsend Bell, a former rival in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Another formal rival, NBC analyst James Hinchcliffe, moved from the booth to pit lane for the broadcast to make room for Hunter-Reay.
“I loved it,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. “Absolutely loved it. I’d love to be a part of it.
“With my passion for INDYCAR, it comes naturally in the booth. It'd be different if I was calling a different type of motorsport; it wouldn't come as natural to me. I lived it. I've breathed it for decades, and to be able to commentate on the little things that are happening during a session and how drivers are approaching it comes naturally.
“So, I would love to do more of it. They're pretty full over there. They've got a pretty full staff and a very capable lineup. I don't think James will be losing sleep over it, but there is a very good lineup there, and I'd love to do it in the future. So, NBC, I'm here if you need me.”
McLaughlin Miffed after Challenging Qualifying
Scott McLaughlin guided the No. 3 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet to a respectable lap of 1 minute, 6.7251 seconds around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit at Long Beach, but it wasn’t quick enough to advance into the Firestone Fast Six during qualifying. He ended up ninth.
During an interview with NBC’s Kevin Lee, the New Zealander voiced his frustrations.
“Unfortunately, man, I’m pissed,” McLaughlin said through his characteristic smile. “I’m being honest. The Sonsio Chevy feels really good, felt really good in practice. Just never got a lap in there, and I couldn’t get the fronts up, unfortunately, like a couple of others could behind us, in front of us.
“So, we’re going to work a little bit harder to try and figure that out but as a driver, as well. I’m very proud of my Sonsio Chevy team. Think we’ll have something for them tomorrow; see where we’re at. But yeah, I’m pissed.”
When asked what he could do from starting near the back end of the top 10, McLaughlin delivered a concise response: “Win.”
When pressed if he could pull off victory from that grid spot, McLaughlin added: “Oh, yeah, man. There’s no doubt. Peak INDYCAR. Big drama, have a crack and we’ll just send it. We’re in Cali -- let’s have a good time and vibe.”
Josef Newgarden and Will Power, McLaughlin’s Team Penske teammates, ended up eighth and 13th, respectively. It was the first time since the 2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville that a Team Penske driver failed to advance into the Firestone Fast Six on a street circuit.
One Shot, No Excuses
In the final minute of the qualifying to make it into the Firestone Fast Six, a red flag came out after rookie Marcus Armstrong found the tire barrier in Turn 9. With only 53 seconds left on the clock, the remaining 11 drivers were given one chance to execute a fast lap and advance once the round resumed.
Although Felix Rosenqvist fell short, putting the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet in 10th with a lap of 1:06:7317, he was a fan of a one-shot attempt.
“I think it's fun,” he said. “I think you really truly see the skill of the drivers when you're put in that situation. You have one go, and there's no 'ifs and buts.' The one who's the quickest is the quickest, and I think that's pretty cool. It really puts us under pressure, and I think it's more sporting.”
Dejected DeFrancesco Hurting after Qualifying
Devlin DeFrancesco qualified 20th in the No. 29 EVTEC Honda for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport on Saturday. However, it could have been so much more but a lack of fuel to finish the run left him eliminated in the second group of Round 1 after hitting a lap of 1:07.0294.
“We were on a better one – it seemed to have some sort of fueling issue,” DeFrancesco said. “It really hurts, man. We just need to catch a break because the No. 29 Capstone crew really put a lot of effort in. Honda giving us great power this weekend and seemed to fine-tune middle areas.
“And it just hurts, man. It hurts for me. It hurts for the boys. It hurts for everyone at Capstone. We were there. We had a lap coming that was quite easily going to put us through, and you know, it's the name of the game sometimes.”
Andretti Autosport boss Michael Andretti said DeFrancesco was too self-critical after failing to advance.
“I don't think he should have been hard on himself,” Andretti said. “It was on a really fast lap, a 66.6 (seconds), which would have put him into the top 12 at that point. We screwed up. We ran him out of gas. It was a stupid mistake.
“He has nothing to be ashamed of. He was doing a good job. He's young. Got to keep him in the game, keep his confidence up. It shows that he was doing the job that he needed to do, so that was good.”
RHR Finally Gets to Walk of Fame
Hunter-Reay finally escaped the aftermath of torrential rain in South Florida that held him at home and forced him to miss the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame induction ceremony Thursday due to a canceled flight.
He got a look at the plaque celebrating his career on the streets of Long Beach, where he won this race in 2010. Former INDYCAR SERIES rival and Andretti Autosport teammate Hinchcliffe also was inducted.
“When it comes to turning left and right, this is the biggest race,” Hunter-Reay said. “This is where it's all at outside the Indianapolis 500. Long Beach is it for me. It's been that for my family. It's been a special place, and to be in the Walk of Fame here is a huge honor.
“Unfortunately, missed it because of the biggest rainfall, I guess, in recorded history, and I was at an airport with my family at the time. So, pretty bad luck on that side of it, but I’ll take it in stride. James Hinchcliffe was there to take the honors. It would have been great to be there with him at the ceremony. James is one of my best friends and teammate for many years, so it's really cool that we were inducted together.”
Odds & Ends
- AJ Foyt Racing has put decals on the mirrors (main photo, above) of its cars in memory of Lucy Foyt, wife of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owner A.J. Foyt. Lucy Foyt, who was married to A.J. for nearly 68 years, passed away April 5.
- It was "Celebrity Row" in the land of surf and sun as Annie Agar, Luke Cook and Matt Leinart were on hand for Saturday’s action. Agar is a sports correspondent for Bally Sports and influencer known for her NFL imitations. Cook, an Australian actor, director, writer and content creator, is known for his role as Lucifer in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Leinart is a former University of Southern California quarterback who played seven seasons in the NFL and serves as a college football studio analyst for FOX Sports.
- Last year’s race saw the two-stop strategy prevail with the top 12 finishers using those tactics. With the guayule tires (green sidewall) serving as the alternate compound opposite the primary tires (black sidewall), there is more of a mixed bag among drivers on Sunday’s 85-lap race, with nearly an even split on whether it will be a two- or three-stop contest.
- NTT P1 Award winner Kyle Kirkwood had a near-miss as David Malukas blended into the racing line off pit lane during the morning practice, which resulted in the Peacock broadcast showing a “thumbs up” by Kirkwood. After the session, Kirkwood laughed it off, gave a brash grin and merely said he wanted to show Malukas “was doing a good job.”
- Jack Harvey celebrated his 30th birthday today, with the Briton qualifying the No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda in 15th to lead Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s three-car effort in Long Beach.