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'Eager as ever' Hunter-Reay hasn't 'even thought' of retirement ahead of 16th Indy 500

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Ryan Hunter-Reay will make his 16th Indianapolis 500 start, providing he makes the field, this May after being confirmed to be returning to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR) in the No.23 car for the race’s 108th Running in May. And, despite now being 43 years old, he is not planning on stopping running the race anytime soon.

“No, I don’t,” he responded to DIVEBOMB’s question about whether there are any retirement plans, speaking in a video conference upon the announcement. “I talked to Gil de Ferran about it at one point. We all miss him dearly, that’s for sure - he was a great mentor in many ways. He told me, ‘You’ll know when that fire is not there. It’s very obvious. 

“This race, the 500, I think about it before I go to bed, when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about different things I need to be on top of for this one race. That fire is burning as bright as it ever has. I haven’t even thought about any of that. 

“Just going out, putting the best foot forward, making sure I’m giving 110 percent to this team, to the effort that all these folks at the team are putting in as well. I’m excited, as eager as ever. I haven’t even thought about it.”

The veteran American driver won the Indy 500 in 2014, driving the No.28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, after an late duel with now-four-time champion Helio Castroneves. He won the IndyCar Series championship in 2012 and has won 16 times and picked up 44 podiums across 250 races.

Now a father of three, Hunter-Reay called time on his full-time IndyCar career at the end of 2021, albeit running 10 races for Ed Carpenter Racing alongside Rinus VeeKay in a leadership role amid a search for performance last year. He replaced the outgoing Conor Daly, who he teams up with at DRR for this year’s Indy 500.

On IndyCar Content Day, VeeKay hailed Hunter-Reay’s “wisdom” as a reason for his late-season turnaround in form. “What Ryan really made me see and helped me get better at is the preparation, the deep analysing before an event, writing everything down and thinking just a little bit further than I have before a race weekend to be more prepared,” he said.

Hunter-Reay took a complete break from racing in 2022, acting as a consultant for Juncos Hollinger Racing at the Indy 500 but not returning to a race seat until the following year. It was DRR that he teamed up with for last year’s Indy 500, qualifying 20th and progressing to finish 11th-place in the race. 

“It was really refreshing to see the motivation in everyone’s faces from day one,” Hunter-Reay said, reflecting on an enjoyable first experience with DRR. “Just what they put into this event is special. I felt that. We all worked really hard together, we showed strong every day we were on the racetrack, really had a strong race day going.

It was “little hiccups”, such as a failed front wing adjuster, for which the team were blameless, that Hunter-Reay deemed to have cost the team. But, a seasoned campaigner, he knows: “That’s Indy.”

Team owner Dennis Reinbold confirmed that conversations with Hunter-Reay about a 2024 return commenced “pretty much after the race last year”. It spoke to just how well the Month of May had gone for a team that became an Indy-only entry in 2014 - after initially joining the series full-time in 2000 - and have qualified all 42 of their drivers for the event. 

“I talked to him and I said, ‘We would definitely want you back,’” Reinbold said. “We talked a little more. As the time went on and the season progressed, he did some driving with Ed Carpenter Racing, we stayed in touch and decided pretty much after the season that we wanted to keep going forward.”

Hunter-Reay is confident that himself and Daly - an all-American lineup - will be able to put “any bit of egos aside” and work together to make the most out of the two-car operation for a team who put all of their year-round emphasis on preparing for the Indy 500.

“I found last year a tremendous upside to the Indy-only focus from the team,” Hunter-Reay said. “Nobody was tired, everybody was motivated. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of attention to detail that they put into these cars, that the team does, is the best I have seen. I’ve been with a lot of great teams. 

“It's double sided. The disadvantage to it is you’re not coming in kind of in full rhythm after doing development testing. The hybrids have been delayed, however there are components going on the car that will shift the weight distribution and potentially change the setups quite a bit. We’re going to have to get to work right away trying to understand.”

Ultimately, Hunter-Reay feels the DRR package “absolutely” has what it takes for him to secure his second Indy 500 crown. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” he said. “I thought that last year as well.”

He feels it was as simple as a “25 dollar part, or something like that” breaking putting pay to the team’s hopes of a possible victory last year. “It was tough to trim the balance, to change the aero balance in the race,” Hunter-Reay said. “We had to trim the rear wing the whole race. It was tough.”

If not for that failed part, said to be a wing adjuster, Hunter-Reay feels as though a top-five finish - and a seventh top-10 in his career - was on the cards. “I think if we wouldn’t have had that, we would have been up in the top five fighting at the end,” he said.


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