Hunter-Reay makes two recoveries to finish fourth at St. Pete

By Jeff Olson |

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ryan Hunter-Reay had enough time for one sustained thought before his car plowed into a tire barrier this morning.

“I hope I keep my ankles and feet. I hope the tire barrier is enough, and I hope I have working ankles after this.”

Hunter-Reay’s rear brakes failed during the prerace warmup for today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, sending him helplessly into a tire barrier at high speed. He emerged unscathed, ankles and feet in full working order.

But then another mishap and miracle occurred. His repaired car encountered an electrical issue at the start of the race, a situation that forced him into the pits as the green flag waved and nearly dropped him a lap down. In the face of disaster, though, Hunter-Reay rallied from last place to a remarkable fourth-place finish in the season opener.

Instead of letting the fright of a bad crash or the frustration of an opening-lap pit stop get to him, Hunter-Reay maintained his composure. He couldn’t even see the tail end of the field as he emerged from the pits on Lap 1 in danger of going a lap down. He put his head down and drove with everything he had, passed 16 cars over the course of the 110-lap race and recorded an improbable finish.

Hunter-Reay credited the experiences of his 20-year racing career for his ability to overcome obstacles.

“It’s lessons learned from earlier in my career,” the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion said. “You just have to keep fighting. No matter where you are in the mix, you just have to keep pushing. I was (running at) qualifying (pace) every lap I could, and saving a little bit of fuel when I had to. But every car in front of me was definitely a target.”

Just a few hours earlier, Hunter-Reay didn’t know if he’d be racing again today – or anytime soon, for that matter. The brakes had failed on this No. 28 DHL Honda, leaving him alone with his thoughts as he headed into the runoff at Turn 10, the end of a long straightaway.

Shaken but otherwise undamaged, Hunter-Reay gave himself a pep talk and strapped back in for the race on the 1.8-mile temporary street course.

“I just looked myself in the mirror and said, ‘All right, get over it. Let’s get out and race,’” Hunter-Reay said. “The guys fixed the car. I have a lot of faith in what this Andretti Autosport crew does. I knew it was behind me.”

The joy of recovery outweighed the fright and frustration. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Yes, again.

“On these street circuits, we’re coming into these corners at 180 mph,” Hunter-Reay explained. “It’s nothing but a concrete barrier that you’re looking at. It’s a very unique sport in that way. There’s nothing like it in the world. Formula One runoffs are 18 times this size. We race on some pretty dangerous racetracks, and that’s part of our job. We love it.”

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