IndyCar 2014 Review: P6 – Ryan Hunter-Reay
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Carlos Reutemann, one of the greatest F1 drivers never to win the World Championship, considered James Hunt slightly crazy, and when he’d spot the ’76 World Champion in his mirrors, never put up much of a fight in case his attacker did something over the edge that hurt them both. An amused Hunt did everything he could to perpetuate Reutemann’s perception of him and considered this part of his armory.
I’m sure Ryan Hunter-Reay doesn’t deliberately do the same to his rivals, but I wonder how many of them get distracted by the sight of that yellow nosecone filling their mirrors. The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion has earned a reputation for trying to pass anything and anyone in front of him and reminds me of his team owner, Michael Andretti, at the height of his driving powers. Accepting second best just isn’t in RHR’s game, and if that means he occasionally screws up through overambition, well, that’s just the way he is.
“With this field so competitive, you’ve got to take chances,” said Ryan explaining his philosophy this year. “If I see a gap, I’m going to go for it. I mean, you can’t wait around hoping for a better chance because it may never happen. If it’s there, take it now.”
RHR-front3qHaving said that, even RHR would confess that the post-Indy 500 melee – the first American in eight years to win the world’s biggest race, remember – meant he wasn’t at his best in Detroit a week later, when he damaged his car on three separate occasions. He also came to admit his attempted pass on Josef Newgarden at Long Beach in April was too optimistic at that corner, and waiting until Turn 9 would have served him better. But to be honest, Ryan should be more troubled by his unforced errors that caused him to spin out of contention at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, as they probably cost him top-three finishes on both occasions.
Still, let’s not paint the picture of a wild man. It was Will Power, not Hunter-Reay, who kept pushing the limit of his braking point at Barber Motorsports Park as the track dried and eventually slid on into the grass, and so it was the Andretti Autosport driver who pulled into Victory Lane. Equally, RHR retained his self-control as he vainly pursued Power for victory at St. Petersburg. And let’s not forget how at Indy, Hunter-Reay perfectly blended calm methodology (to pick his way through to the front) with daring and inspiration when it came time to defeat a three-time “500” winner in a straight duel to the checkers.
Hunter-Reay was struck by a few mechanical failures but the ones that really stand out came in the races Texas, Pocono (double-points) and Milwaukee because they all cost him top-five finishes, at least. Without errors and engine issues, Hunter-Reay would probably have finished at least third in the championship rather than sixth. As for the chancy passing attempts, I regard 75 percent of them as merely the flip-side of a talent that also produces some of an IndyCar season’s most memorable moments.