Ryan Hunter-Reay is still getting acclimated to a one-off return for this year’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The 42-year-old is driving the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, but his muscle memory has him ready walk into the Andretti Autosport garage, where he spent 12 seasons, or even pull into the pit stall of that team’s No. 28 DHL Honda now driven by Romain Grosjean.
“It’s funny, you spend 12 years somewhere, and that that tends to happen, but especially coming down pit lane when I see that pit box with all the yellow,” said Hunter-Reay, citing the iconic DHL colors he represented for most of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. “That's kind of where my brain actually (remembers), but now it's quite the opposite right in all black. So, I'm enjoying the role.”
Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner and 2012 INDYCAR SERIES champion, is also building chemistry with the team, specifically race engineer Todd Bowland.
Bowland engineered victory for Buddy Rice at the 2004 Indy 500 with Rahal Letterman Racing, where Rice also led the most laps after starting from pole. Bowland left at the end of that season to join Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR, becoming the team’s technical director in 2016 until 2021.
While it is still early days, Hunter-Reay is relishing the dynamic of working with Bowland.
“It's one thing to have dialogue with the engineer and the team over the phone on meetings in person, meetings and all that,” Hunter-Reay said. “It's another thing to operate from home on the racetrack with everybody collaborating together and trying to get that, that team chemistry working, and I think it's gone really well.
“Todd Bowland has an amazing pedigree, obviously. He won the race in 2004, then went to NASCAR. His love has always been INDYCAR, and he came back. Last year, he just kind of oversaw the program and stayed about 50,000 feet (away) observing, helping where he could. Now, he wants to be back on it, and we couldn't ask for a better match.”
Hunter-Reay finished eighth on the first day of practice Wednesday (following Tuesday’s rainout), and ended up 22nd (225.951 mph) in today’s session, and 15th (223.274 mph) on the no-tow (unassisted) lap sheet.
Prank Herta If You Dare
Andretti Autosport is known for two things at the Indianapolis Motors Speedway: speed and legendary pranks in the bus lot.
And one of the team’s drivers, Colton Herta, has heard the noise that many believe he is the one that is usually up to no good, too.
“Listen, I always get blamed for everything,” said Herta, driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. “It's never even been proven that it's me. Because of my dad's (Bryan Herta) past, I just seem to be the guy that is the punching bag for this stuff. I've never seen anything linked to me about anything like that. I don't see where these allegations come from, except people are jealous. I've got great hair. I've got a great INDYCAR ride, and I think that's where coming comes from. It's just jealousy.”
While that might be true, he is also on alert of potential shenanigans from anyone, including former teammate-turned-Arrow McLaren driver Alexander Rossi, who confessed to having “some stuff” at the ready for various members of the paddock.
“It would be a mistake, and yes, this is a threat,” Herta said. “If somebody were to come after me, it would be a huge mistake for them, and they would probably have to spend a lot of money fixing whatever I will do to their things.”
Herta, who ended up fifth overall (228.240 mph) in Thursday’s practice, went on to add he “will be swift on my retaliation. I have a lot of resources and a lot of great ideas.”
Rossi, with the aid of last year’s “500” starter Sage Karam, drained Conor Daly’s pool and filled it with 1.75 million tiny beads.
That wasn’t the only memorable prank, though. During the Peacock broadcast of practice Thursday, James Hinchcliffe identified Rossi as the one who sawed the muffler off his car.
Retaliation is expected as Hinchcliffe said, “I’m not going to feel bad about what I’m going to do to his truck.”
Celebrating a Legend
Today marked the 60th anniversary of Parnelli Jones winning the pole for the 1963 edition of the Indianapolis 500, with a track-record speed of 151.153 mph. Jones led 167 laps in the race en route to victory, besting rookie Jim Clark by 33.84 seconds.
A.J. Foyt, who finished third in the race, was on hand at the Speedway to accept a celebratory cake on behalf of Jones. The cake was served to the crew of AJ Foyt Racing during lunch.
Speaking from his home in Rolling Hills, California, the 89-year-old Jones recalled his most famous victory.
"The one thing that really sticks out from my 1963 Indy 500 pole was the weather,” Jones said. “It was very windy, and you had to be lucky when you went out to qualify, hoping it wasn't blowing its hardest. I got it right, or was lucky and it wasn't, but it was still very windy during the run. I also remember (Jim) Hurtubise and (Don) Branson being on the front row with me, two of my old USAC Sprint Car buddies.
“When I won the pole in 1962 breaking 150 mph (150.370 mph) for the first time, I had something to shoot for, and people were talking about 150 mph all month wondering if it would happen. In 1963, I just wanted to be on the pole again, and we all (1963 front row) broke 150 mph. It was special to win a second straight pole; that really doesn't happen often. I think Aggie (car owner J. C. Agajanian) was as happy or happier than me to be there again!
“I'll never forget Herk (Hurtubise) led the first lap in the Novi, but I passed him on the second lap and led over 160 laps. Boy, it seems like a long time ago, but not 60 years ago! Those were some special and memorable times in racing."
Foyt spoke with fondness when sharing his memories with Jones.
"Parnelli was always a good hard racer, a real rival,” Foyt said. “We had some great battles, and we sure had fun. 1963 was Parnelli's year - he had us covered on Pole Day and Race Day.
“When we were racing, we spent so much time together. He was a great friend. I wish he could make it back to Indianapolis. It would be nice to see him."
Odds & Ends
- Simon Pagenaud received a massive tow to finish third overall in Thursday’s running, pulling a lap of 228.681 mph in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda, which provided a perfect present for his 39th birthday. Moreover, though, the Frenchman received a plate full of chocolate covered Rice Krispies treats during the post-practice press conference.
- com, an auto group in Indianapolis, joined Hunter-Reay’s entry as an associate sponsor Wednesday.
- Five teams were represented in the top six at the end of Thursday’s practice, with Chip Ganassi Racing going 1-2 (with Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon, respectively), Meyer Shank Racing in third (with Pagenaud), Team Penske fourth (Will Power), Andretti Autosport fifth (Colton Herta) and Ed Carpenter Racing sixth (Conor Daly).
- Ericsson was also fastest on the no-tow (unassisted) lap list, at 224.414 mph in the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda.