INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – Call it a welcomed return to form for Ryan Hunter-Reay.
A third-place finish in Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is exactly what was needed for the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda.
His best finish since a fourth-place effort in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, and first podium since Pocono last August, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion had endured a rough stretch with three finishes outside the top 10. An electrical issue subdued him at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and a suspension issue two weeks ago at Phoenix Raceway plagued any hope of a solid finish.
However, leading the charge from eighth starting spot for the Andretti Autosport foursome, Hunter-Reay began to change the recent rough luck into something more deserving of their pace.
“Yeah, we've had a pretty tricky beginning of the year, I guess you could say,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “It's been one thing or another really; some misfortune, bad luck. Some we brought upon ourselves, but it's been one thing or another.
“So it's just nice to bank a (good) result finally. We feel like hopefully we can start our season now, get off to a good start and hopefully the next race is two spots better. But it's nice to have a good, solid result today finishing third.”
The positive outing on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit came with several spirited fights for the 16-time Indy car race winner, including early on with defending series champion Simon Pagenaud, and moved him up to eighth in the points standings, 28 behind fifth-place Will Power.
“We're headed in the right direction,” said Hunter-Reay, who finished second in the inaugural INDYCAR Grand Prix in 2014 before going on to win the Indy 500 later in the month.
“We need more weekends like this. It was an excellent race, though. We had some excellent battles there in the beginning, especially through the first half. I think Simon Pagenaud and I went back and forth four or five times in one lap.
“So there was a lot of back-and-forth, and looked like a lot of good, hard wheel-to-wheel racing. In the end, I just smoked in a little bit too hot into the pits and delayed my stop, which gave up some time to those guys. But it seemed like Will (Power) and Scott (Dixon) were checking out pretty well.”
Breaking away from the Team Penske duo of Pagenaud and later Helio Castroneves, who led 24 laps on the day, Hunter-Reay was happy how his Honda could take the fight to the Chevrolet powerhouse.
“I was a little bit surprised,” said the 36-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Like Scott mentioned, Helio's strategy (saving his black-sidewall Firestone primary tires for the last stint), I think it was a good try, but it didn't end up working out for him in the end because he was on primaries (and) kind of a sitting duck for us that had pace on red (alternate tires).
“I think the pace for us was encouraging. You know, straight-up just drove away from Pagenaud, so that was good.”
Overall, Hunter-Reay was pleased to walk away with a good result, but with the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28 drawing near, he’s hoping to better this outcome with another Borg-Warner Trophy.
“Pretty solid day,” said Hunter-Reay. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year and it’s been frustrating, but we kept our heads down and it feels nice to come home with a podium here before we kick off the most important two weeks of our careers and our whole season.
“It’s nice to get the yellow and red DHL colors back here close to the top step of the podium. We’re saving that for the 500, I guess.”
Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins on the 2.5-mile oval Monday. Qualifying days are May 20-21, with the race airing live beginning at 11 a.m. ET May 28 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.