In 2008, Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay came to Watkins Glen International seeking to launch a reversal of fortunes and post a positive result for his struggling team. His hopes were answered when both good luck from an unlikely incident and opportunity forged by driving a very fast car combined to see him emerge victorious that year at the fabled Finger Lakes road course.
These many years later he arrives at The Glen this weekend again hoping to catch some rebounding magic in the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen.
Late in the 2008 race while under caution, Darren Manning was leading Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Hunter-Reay. Dixon was seeking his fourth consecutive IndyCar Series victory at The Glen. Then the unthinkable happened.
Dixon, known as a driver who very rarely makes mistakes, spun out while under caution with 12 laps remaining in the race, collecting Briscoe in the process. This moved Hunter-Reay into second. Once the race went back green, Hunter-Reay dispatched Manning from the top spot and he went on to score the win, uplifting the spirits of himself and the Rahal-Letterman Racing team that he drove for at the time.
A lot of water has flowed under the racing bridge of Hunter-Reay's long career since that memorable day at the Glen, including an IndyCar Series championship in 2012 and an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2014. While this season has not been disastrous by any means, Hunter-Reay again finds him arriving for this weekend's IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen looking to turn around a season that he hoped would be much better. Now driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, he comes to the Glen 11th in championship points with third place runs at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course event and on the oval in Iowa as his best 2017 results.
After scoring at least one IndyCar Series victory each season from 2010 through 2015, Hunter-Reay has not visited Victory Lane since scoring wins at Iowa and Pocono in 2015. He remembered his 2008 Glen achievement and hopes for the best this weekend.
"It was unusual when Scott spun out," Hunter-Reay said. " But it's an easy thing to do with the power that these cars have and how light they are. We were aggressively warming the tires before the restart and Scott just got a little too sideways there. The hardest part about the whole deal was he was sideways and got his right front into the dirt on the inside of the corner and he just created a huge cloud and you couldn't see where you were going. Luckily I picked the right route around him and came out of there second. Then I ended up passing for the lead and taking the win.
"I saw Scott spin out. I was thinking 'OK, where am I going to put the car and where's he going and all of a sudden he went to the dirt and it got pretty complicated. It was changing by the second. Scott doesn't very often make mistakes. Like life in general, it was all about capitalizing on an opportunity. That was a big win for me and my career and a big one for Rahal so it was a very memorable experience."
Now Hunter-Reay hopes The Glen will provide another lift. He arrives at Watkins Glen still very sore physically following a qualifying accident at Pocono Aug. 19. He managed to lead 12 laps in the Pocono race the following day, finishing eighth. This past Saturday in St. Louis he glanced off the wall, suffering terminal suspension damage on route to a 15th-place run.
"We've had unfortunate circumstances this year," Hunter-Reay said, "when you consider that we had a shot to win the Indy 500 again and the car died on me. At Long Beach it was the same thing with the car dying. Yeah, we're looking for a break-though win at The Glen that is very much needed at this point."
Hunter-Reay had a disappointing result when the IndyCar Series returned to The Glen in 2016. He started 19th and finished 14th.
"It was not good," Hunter-Reay said. "The whole team struggled. We all qualified at the back. It was a situation where we picked the wrong strategy in the race and ended up having to save a bunch of fuel at the end and losing three or four spots right in the last couple laps of the race. But we were just up in Watkins Glen testing this past week and really made some massive improvements so hopefully we can come back and be very competitive."
Certainly Hunter-Reay has had a stellar career. After getting a pair of wins in the old Champ Car Series, the 2007 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year has added 14 more checkered flags. The hallmark of his career is his championship and Indy 500 triumph.
"Certainly when you become a champion or an Indy 500 winner it stays with you so I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity and the fact that we were able accomplish that but there's so much more to do in the sport," Hunter-Reay said. "We're looking at winning more races, getting that second Indy 500 and a second championship and those are the only goals that we're out here to accomplish."
Something else that Hunter-Reay wants to see is an end to cancer. He is doing his part. He has established Racing for Cancer to promote early detection and prevention initiatives that support the global fight against cancer. His car is numbered No. 28 to honor the 28 million cancer inflicted people worldwide.
"My mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer," said Hunter-Reay, whose mom died from the disease in 2009. "It came out of nowhere. No symptoms. But she never got checked. That's why I wanted to do something so I started Racing for Cancer and we use motorsports as our platform to raise awareness and funds in the fight against cancer. We partnered with Auto Nation and it's been tremendously successful. We've raised close to six million dollars so far."
IMRRC to honor Andretti
One of the highlights of the Glen activity takes place Thursday when the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen presents retired racing legend Mario Andretti with the fourth annual Cameron R. Argetsinger Award for Outstanding Contributions to Motorsports. Andretti will receive the award at a gala dinner hosted at the Corning Museum of Glass.
"It's a great honor for me, not only as the chairman of the IMRRC's governing council, but as a fellow racer to be part of this gala evening presenting Mario with the Cameron R. Argetsinger Award," Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 victor said. "When it comes to motorsports history there is no name more familiar around the world than Mario Andretti. What an outstanding life and career he's had."
The award memorializes Cameron R. Argetsinger, founder and organizer of the first races at Watkins Glen almost 70 years ago. Buffalo's Sahlen's Packing Company is one of the major sponsors of Thursday's dinner.