By: Tanner Watkins
March 11, 2019 | 4:30 P.M.
Leading into Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, the man to beat wasn’t Josef Newgarden, or pole winner Will Power, or the defending series champion Scott Dixon. It was the hometown resident of Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The 38-year-old Andretti Autosport driver was arguably the most consistent competitor throughout Friday and Saturday practices as well as qualifications. Hunter-Reay topped the combined timesheets for each of the three full-length practices and was disappointed to qualify fifth – a good indication of the car’s true pace on the Firestone primary tire.
Things were looking good for the 2012 series champion, until of course, they weren’t.
Hunter-Reay had just climbed to fourth place when on Lap 20 his Honda engine expired on the Albert Whitted Airport fronstretch. The powerplant failure had been an event laps in the making, as the Florida native later reported a slow decline of power before going up in smoke.
“We just gradually lost power today. Honda has been doing such a great job for us. They give us tremendous powerplants and great drivability, so we’ll have to go back and look at it,” said Hunter-Reay after the race.
The engine failure for Hunter-Reay occurred just laps after fellow Honda competitor (and two-time defending St. Petersburg winner) Sebastien Bourdais had to exit the race with fire spitting out the back of his No. 18 machine.
This type of early-season drama is exactly what Hunter-Reay and his No. 28 DHL crew had looked to avoid. Despite finishing fourth in last year’s IndyCar championship, the red and yellow Andretti Autosport group left a ton of points on the board with six finishes of 16th or worse in 2018.
Take those six finishes in the back half of the grid out of the equation, and RHR’s average finish position in the other eleven races in 2017 was a red-hot 3.36. So with that, the objective to start 2019 wasn’t focused solely on winning; it was just as much not digging an early-season hole.
With the way Hunter-Reay and the team performed on Friday and Saturday, having an issue arise during the race (that was of no fault of their own) was all the more painful.
“We definitely had a lot of positives this weekend for the DHL team,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “It’s unfortunate. Somehow, we have to avoid the bad luck and we’ll make a run for the championship. This one definitely stings. It’s going to put us behind the eight
In a series that is so tight on competition, Hunter-Reay knows how important each and every point can be. At the same time, he realizes the 17-round championship can take many twists and turns, and now is no time to hang the head.
“We’ll figure it out. I have a great team behind me, and we’ll keep soldiering on. I have to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us
Hunter-Reay and the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series will hit the track again on Friday, March 22 for first practice at Circuit of the Americas. That will be in preparation of the inaugural INDYCAR Classic, to be held on Sunday, March 24 at the Austin, Texas facility.
Header image by Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR.