If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
The lyrics are from an old country song ("Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me"), but they could have come from Ryan Hunter-Reay following the Andretti Autosport driver’s inspiring drive to third place in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Hunter-Reay charged the No. 28 DHL Honda from last on the starting grid to the podium – advancing more positions throughout the 500-mile race than anyone. But that was little consolation to the 35-year-old American and 2015 Pocono winner, who saw another shot at victory disappear in front of his unbelieving eyes with less than 40 laps to go.
“I can't help but feel like that the 28 DHL Honda should have been in Victory Lane today,” Hunter-Reay lamented following Monday’s race. “It was there when I needed it, there when I needed to bide my time.
“There's very few times in your career when you get a car that you're completely in line with and it's doing everything that you need it to,” he added. “That's what I had today. It was like a 2014 Indy 500 car. I just don't know what we need to do.”
Hunter-Reay started 22nd because he crashed his primary car – the chassis he used to win the 2014 Indianapolis 500 – in practice Saturday morning and his crew couldn’t prep the backup to make the qualifying technical inspection line in time. Nevertheless, he bolted past eight cars on the first of 200 race laps around the 2.5-mile triangular oval and rocketed into the lead by Lap 49.
After that, the 16-time Indy car race winner never dipped below fifth place other than for regularly scheduled pit stops. Running second on a Lap 163 restart, Hunter-Reay zoomed past leader Will Power, only to slow dramatically on the short chute between Turns 2 and 3 when, ironically, he lost "power."
Hunter-Reay coasted through pit lane, frantically trying to reset the electronics on his car as the rest of the field pulled away. By the time the engine refired and he was back on track, he was a lap down.
“Something became disconnected because they lost signal from it on the ECU (electronics control unit),” he said. “I don't know if it popped back in or what, if it was a bad connector. Something pretty freak happened.”
Hunter-Reay was able to get back on the lead lap during a final caution period for debris on the track, taking the final restart on Lap 179 from 12th position. From there he was a sight to behold, picking off car after car in the final 20 laps but running out of time to chase down race winner Power and runner-up Mikhail Aleshin.
Several veteran drivers found Hunter-Reay in pit lane after the race to congratulate him on his drive. It was of small consolation to Hunter-Reay, who is in danger of seeing a streak of six straight seasons with at least one win come to an end. It’s the third time he felt a good chance at winning was whisked away, following strong runs in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May and at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio last month.
“After Mid-Ohio, running third, having the fuel issue where the fuel rig had a problem, we gave that one away,” he said. “Then Indy, running up front, then getting taken out in pit lane. There's been a lot of frustration building.
“So when this one happened, it was almost just like I was drained. What else? What else can we do?
“We had the car to compete for a win. I'm not going to sit here and say we would have won, because that's not fair to anybody. We needed to be there in the fight to really prove that, but the car shut off while we were leading.
“We drove through the field twice. It was a good day on that side of it, but a huge opportunity missed.”
Hunter-Reay invited back to Race of Champions in Miami
His Verizon IndyCar Series season may not be what he has envisioned, but Hunter-Reay will be in elite company again in January when he is a pseudo-host driver for the Race of Champions, the gathering of racers from multiple disciplines to compete individually and as teams representing nations.
For the first time, the prestigious event will take place on American soil at Marlins Park, the home of the Miami Marlins in Major League Baseball and not far from Hunter-Reay’s home in Fort Lauderdale. Competition will take place Jan. 21-22, 2017. It will mark Hunter-Reay's fourth time in the event.
Sebastien Vettel, the four-time Formula One champion, is expected to defend his Race of Champions title won last year at London’s Olympic Stadium, where Hunter-Reay also raced. NASCAR driver and 2014 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Kurt Busch is also expected to compete.
In addition to London, other cities to host the event include Paris, Dusseldorf, Beijing and Bangkok.