Hunter-Reay on broken Indy 500 suspension: ‘It was survival’

Ryan Hunter-Reay thought he was losing his mind.

The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner has been an oval expert for decades, but something felt off with his No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports Chevy on Sunday at the Indy 500. Starting a supremely impressive 12th, the No. 23 Chevy soon sank like a rock.

He swore the rear of the car had a mind of its own — a devilish problem to have at 230mph — and it took a post-event inspection by the DRR mechanics to confirm Hunter-Reay’s sanity was intact.

“I had a really good start, moved up around the outside of Takuma Sato in Turn 1 and then we had the crash with [Tom] Blomquist and the rest of them — [Marcus] Ericsson — and so I was feeling pretty confident about where we were going,” Hunter-Reay told RACER. “And then on that lap 5 restart, things were super crowded on the front straight and somehow Kyle Larson got moved up and got into my left rear as I was passing him. It was a side-by-side hit mostly. We obviously weren’t trying to hit each other, but it was still a pretty significant hit.


“Right there when it happened, I didn’t think anything of it. Not until I was really loose for some reason — just crazy loose mid-corner, and it would come and go lap after lap. It was never consistent. I’m asking myself, ‘Is this some type of phantom thing going on here?’ Because when something’s wrong, it tends to stay wrong and be wrong the entire time. But this would come and go and I was beginning to wonder if I was going crazy all of a sudden.

“We pitted at one point just to check the left rear because they thought they saw some damage, but nothing jumped out, so I went back out and continued my race until the thing happened with Scott [Dixon] when I had a huge run.”

Hunter-Reay was launched into the grass and spun back onto the track on the run to Turn 3 as he attempted to pass Dixon on the inside, but Dixon moved over and the right-side contact fired the No. 23 Chevy into retirement.

“After the race, they found that the left-rear lower wishbone, where it connects to the upright, the nut had sheared off, the bolt had backed out, and there was quite a bit of travel there,” he said. “So that was definitely the reason for the wandering rear and the reason why we fell back so much. After the fact, it’s nice to know that I’m not crazy and I understand why it happened. But it was full survival mode for me out there. I was just trying not to crash. I thought maybe we need to do something with the tools.

“I started going full soft on the rear bar, full stiff on the front, then I got too much understeer. So I added front wing with that. And I thought it was just a combination of things. You’re just trying to problem solve while you’re driving at 200 miles an hour in the pack, trying to salvage the race. It’s 500 miles so I’m thinking the whole time, ‘This is this is gonna be a long 500 if it keeps up.’

“With my experience and everything, I kept calm. I told the team, ‘I’m gonna go full conservative on the tools; let’s add front wing to compensate for that and see if that helps. And we soldiered on. I was able to run with Scott and Scott ended up P3 at the end of the race. I had that big run on him and then it was ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.’”

Hunter-Reay says Dixon apologized for the contact that ended his race.

“We talked about it and he apologized and at this point, it is what it is,” he said. “I reiterated the fact that we’ve been racing each other very clean for 20 years and said he would never do that intentionally and he didn’t get a call from his spotter. I still don’t understand why when he had a huge closing rate to Will [Power], cleared Will, and why he would end up down at the white line where I was going, but it happened and I have a lot of respect for him.

“Same thing for like Helio. He and I raced wheel to wheel in the ’14 500 doing some crazy stuff, and you know, if something happened between me and Helio, I wouldn’t put him on blast right away. I wouldn’t make a big scene of it. I have too much respect for these guys. So especially the guys like Will and Helio and Dixon that I’ve been racing for the better part of 20 years. I sent him a text showing him my side of it and the gaps and everything else and he understood. Unfortunate situation.”

Story originally appeared on Racer