(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTO BY AL STILLEY)
When 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay took his first fast laps in two years around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, he felt like a kid again.
“It was great,” the 2014 “500” winner said. “The first proper run out, felt like a kid going down a ramp – that feeling of just pure excitement. I absolutely couldn’t wait to do it.”
At 42, Hunter-Reay deserves to feel young again after the past two years. He is back at the Speedway as a driver after serving as an advisor in for Juncos Hollinger Racing, raced in Tony Stewart’s SRX series, and raced for Chip Ganassi in the IMSA series with a top finish of fifth in the Petit Le Mans.
When practice begins for the 107th “500,” Hunter-Reay will be in the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet-powered entry, His teammate is British driver Stefan Wilson, brother of Justin Wilson who was fatally injured in 2015 at Pocono.
Hunter-Reay was pleased with the April 20 team test day at IMS by doing 59 laps. He has raced for the multiple-car Andretti team, so being part of a two-car one-off Dreyer & Reinbold program is something new.
“I had been here many times with a powerhouse team like Andretti,” Hunter-Reay recalled. “We had times when we had the best car out there and times when the car was horrendous.
He considers team owner Dennis Reinbold, who owns an auto dealership in Greenwood, as a “throwback” owner because of his love for the Indy 500 and desire to win the world’s most famous race.
Aside from not being in a car for the past two races, Hunter-Reay said he learned a lot.
“I actually enjoyed it (because) I had been with one team for 12 years and had blinders on,” he observed. “It was nice to see the 500 from the outside looking in, consulting (Callum Ilott). It was good to see the approach of a different team and a driver who was here for the first time. I came back now really charged up, energized, and focused.”
Teammate Wilson also expressed his admiration for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing that just does Indy only.
“I think every single person on the team lives and breathes for the Indy 500,” Wilson said. “Just like Ryan, myself, we’re all laser focused on the 500.”
Teams are using a new package with enhanced downforce with Penske driver Josef Newgarden on top of the chart at 227.686 miles per hour.
“We’ve not explored everything,” Newgarden said. “It remains to be seen exactly how this new package will race. It’s so difficult to predict this stuff until you get into the meat of the month of May.”
Hunter-Reay won the 500 in 2014 with the second-closest finish of 0.0600 seconds ahead of Helio Castroneves, becoming the first American driver to win since 2006. The Floridian driver has raced in 14 Indianapolis 500s.
Hunter-Reay and his wife Beccy live in Fort Lauderdale. They have three sons. During his time away from full-time racing, he found time to coach two of the three sons’ youth football team and also groom the trio in go-karts.
Hunter-Reay is among nine “500” winners entered for the 107th “500,” including 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Tony Kanaan.
Wilson seeks his fifth “500” start in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold / Cusak Motorsports entry. His best finish was 15th in 2018 with Andretti.
Most teams return to IMS for the GMR Grand Prix on the road course, Saturday, May 13; “500” practice begins, Tuesday, May 16; qualifications, Saturday-Sunday, May 20-21; Carb Day, Friday, May 26; and 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Sunday, May 28.