It hasn’t been the desired start to the season that Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport or Honda expected, but the driver who has won the last two Verizon IndyCar Series races at Barber Motorsports Park is confident that better times lie ahead.
“It hasn’t been the easiest equation to figure out,” Hunter-Reay said Wednesday. “The results have spoken to that, but I think we’ve been making some progress. This weekend at Barber will be another step in that direction.”
Hunter-Reay comes into Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama 14th in the drivers’ standings, 68 points behind leader Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske. Hunter-Reay finished 13th Sunday at Long Beach, crashed and was penalized at NOLA Motorsports Park, and opened the season March 29 with a seventh-place effort at St. Petersburg, Fla.
But now he returns to Barber, the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course near Birmingham, Ala., where he’s won the past two races. Last year, his victory served as a lead-in to Indianapolis, where he finished second in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, then won his first Indianapolis 500 crown.
“Last year’s race at Barber set the tone,” he said. “We went to the Indy GP and nearly won it, and then we won the big one. That was a pretty good stretch for us as a team. Hopefully we can get going on the same tone this year.”
The primary issue for Hunter-Reay, his Andretti teammates and other Honda drivers has been adjusting to the new aero kits — 200-piece additions to the Dallara DW12 chassis manufactured by the series’ two engine suppliers, Chevrolet and Honda.
Chevrolet has won two of the first three races and the first three pole positions. James Hinchcliffe scored Honda’s only win so far in a wet, caution-slogged affair April 12 at NOLA.
“It’s a work in progress, but I’m not sure how much more the Chevy will develop,” Hunter-Reay said. “All the time we’re trying to hit the sweet spot with the Honda, the Chevy is also being pushed forward and being developed by Penske and Ganassi and every other team. … They definitely came out of the gate stronger than us, but we’re making in-roads into what we know and what we want from the car in order to get the most out of it.”
The real mystery is Indianapolis. Teams won’t receive their superspeedway aero kits until later this month, and they won’t begin widescale work with them until practice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval commences May 11.
“We have no idea how we’ll stack up at Indy,” Hunter-Reay said. “We have no idea how the Chevy kit is going to perform, and we have no idea how our kit is going to compare to that. With the oval car, the downforce is achieved differently. The drag numbers are different. It’s a completely different subject. We could have a dominant oval package. We just don’t know yet.”