Just one week after winning the biggest race of his life – the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 – Ryan Hunter-Reay followed with a downer in Detroit.
The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion arrived at Belle Isle looking like the king of the racing world and for a good reason. He won one of the most thrilling Indy 500s in history when he defeated three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves by just 0.0600 seconds in the second-closest Indianapolis 500 finish in history. Then it was off to New York for a victory tour that included ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and an appearance on “Today” before jetting down to Dallas and a stop at Texas Motor Speedway for more media appearances.
“It has been surreal, but there is a real sense of getting back to work this week and turning the page because there is a lot at stake this week,” Hunter-Reay said on Friday. “With two races there are as many points up for grabs in Detroit as there was at Indy.”
Consider that he entered the Indianapolis 500 one point behind the leader, Will Power of Team Penske, and left with a 40-point lead over Power and $2.49 million in prizes, there was reason for the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda to feel confident about his weekend on Belle Isle.
That confidence soon turned to concern. He brought out the red flag in Friday’s practice after his car stopped on course.
“I’m not quite sure why the car quit early but it just stalled and wouldn’t re-fire,” Hunter-Reay explained.
The downward spiral continued Saturday morning when Hunter-Reay’s car smacked the wall in Turn 11 during the first round of qualifications. He would start 21st in the 22-car field and make his way back toward the front before stuffing it into the tire barrier in Turn 7 on the white flag lap of Saturday’s first Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.
“We had a rough day overall,” Hunter-Reay said. “Strategy wasn’t working for us and we kept losing spots on pit lane, losing spots on the track and it was just a tough day. At the end, I’m not sure what happened. Marco Andretti seemed to be struggling on fuel and I got inside of him and just lost the rear of the car.”
His 16th place finish combined with Power’s victory shrunk his lead to three points entering Sunday’s second doubleheader race.
Sunday was a new opportunity that produced even worse results. He crashed in Turn 13 during Sunday morning’s qualifications and had to start last in the 22-car field alongside three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
“I’ve been hard on that left rear this weekend; it just snapped and I couldn’t catch it,” Hunter-Reay explained. “It’s totally my fault. Hopefully we can do what Will Power did yesterday. He came from way back to win the race.”
Sunday’s race saw a variety of issues for Hunter-Reay and his No. 28 crew and when shifting problems developed late in the race, the Indy 500 winner was doomed to a 19th-place finish. His sizeable lead over Power disappeared after Power finished second to teammate Helio Castroneves and has a 27-point lead over Hunter-Reay entering Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It’s been very difficult,” Hunter-Reay said.” “Nothing has gone our way. Race strategy hasn’t gone our way. I found the wall in qualifying. We had a puncture, flat tire, cut airline, airjack problems and a shifting actuator didn’t work at the end. You name it and we had the problem this weekend. I’m just glad to be getting out of here.
“We took a major hit in the points. It’s much different than in years’ past because you have the 500-milers that count double. If you have one good 500-miler at the end of the season and your rivals have a bad one it turns it on its head again.”Detroit, Indianapolis 500, IndyCar, Ryan Hunter-Reay