INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Hunter-Reay delivered a four-lap qualifying performance that was exceptionally quick and inspired roars from the crowd Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But it came a day too late. And the no-nonsense Hunter-Reay didn’t mince words on where he stood.
“Two cars that should be in that Fast Nine (Shootout) that aren’t, that’s myself and Sebastien Bourdais,” Hunter-Reay said after slotting his No. 28 DHL Honda in the 10th starting position for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Hunter-Reay’s four-lap speed average of 231.442 mph on the 2.5-mile oval would have placed him fourth overall had he qualified for the Fast Nine Shootout the day before.
Bourdais appeared destined for a Fast Nine Shootout spot with the two quickest qualifying laps on Saturday before a horrific crash in Turn 2. Bourdais, the Dale Coyne Racing driver from France, is recuperating from successful surgery on pelvic and hip fractures.
“To be honest, I think (Bourdais) would have been the one to snatch the pole today,” said pole winner Scott Dixon, who visited Bourdais earlier in the day at IU Health Methodist Hospital, four miles from IMS.
Longtime competitors in Indy cars, Dixon and Bourdais are also teammates in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT sports-car program.
On a Saturday when four of his Andretti Autosport teammates qualified for the shootout, Hunter-Reay ran a disappointing 13th in the provisional session. A day later, the 2014 Indy 500 winner didn’t take much consolation in being the fastest car in Group 1 qualifying as well as faster than five cars with a shot at the pole.
“We won from 19th (starting position) in ’14,” the 36-year-old Floridian said. “If you have a good race car, qualifying means nothing. If you have a mediocre race car, qualifying means something. It all depends. It’s just a bummer we’re not in the Fast Nine.”
Like most drivers this weekend, Hunter-Reay pushed his car to the limit.
“It’s the craziest, most stressful four laps of the year,” said the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “It’s all the build-up to it, all the practice runs you do that the fans never see, that makes the whole process so stressful. That was on edge. I couldn’t have taken any more downforce off it.”
Although Hunter-Reay and his team guessed right for Sunday’s run, it was still an anxious ride.
“We made some changes and I have to credit the engineering department,” he said. “They made the right changes, and then we picked the right downforce for the run. It’s not easy. Track temperature is something you can’t put a figure into, right? You can’t validate it. You can’t put a quantity into it. Ambient conditions, it could be the wind, you can take all this into account, but track temp is always a wild card.
“The whole way around was tough, (Turns) 1, 2 and 4. (Turn) 3 was like where I could catch my breath a little bit. It’s blowing you off of (Turn) 1. And then you’re losing downforce going into 2, and then you’re losing the front end coming out of 2. It makes for a tricky combination. I have no idea why 4 was so hard.”
Hunter-Reay will make his 10th Indy 500 start on May 28. His 2014 triumph at IMS was the first for an American since Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. He also finished third in 2013.
“We put a lot into that one,” Hunter-Reay said of his qualifying run Sunday. “And we used every inch of racetrack.
“You have an idea based on your past experiences of what the car will do, but it always surprises you here at Indy. No two laps are the same. No two days are the same. Any time you start a qualifying run, you know you’re in for a surprise. That first lap is always hanging on for dear life, but at the same time you’re doing an exploratory lap.”
After he endured, Hunter-Reay was asked if this was the best race car he’s driven at IMS.
“Speed-wise, it certainly is in qualifying,” he said. “I’ll let you know in the race next Sunday.”
Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for the 101st Indianapolis 500. The epic race airs live at 11 a.m. ET May 28 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
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