Indianapolis 500 race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay has ground to make up in the Verizon Indycar Series standings, but is eyeing this weekend's trip to Pocono as an opportunity to make big gains.
The 'Tricky Triangle' is one of a handful of select venues where one race offers double points towards the championship and, having triumphed at Indianapolis, Hunter-Reay is keen to inject another big haul into his tally as he attempts to close in on Helio Castroneves and current leader Will Power.
“It's absolutely critical,” the Andretti Autosport driver admitted, “Even the double points races, even the double-headers… We came off a double points race at Houston - it was two races, but still double points – and here we have one race with double points at Pocono. We go to Toronto, and that's another race with double the points. We go to Fontana with double points... I don't know, maybe we should make the whole series double points at this point.
“There's a lot riding on every
weekend. You can have huge swings in your championship fight because of it. Especially as the season goes on, as you get later in the season, it becomes more and more valuable to score points in these big races.”
Since Indianapolis, RHR has slipped back from leading the championship table, and currently lies 41 points shy of Penske rival Power after poor weekends in Detroit and Texas that undid a lot of the good work he put in at the Brickyard.
“We came out of Indy with a pretty strong points lead, but left Texas looking like we were a little too far out of first,” he reflected, “But we've done a good job at Houston to close that gap a little bit, and certainly closed up on Helio. We're now two points out of second place, and we've got a string of races coming that could really play a huge part in the championship fight.”
The double-header in Houston may not have produced a win for Hunter-Reay, but certainly helped to stem the tide of misfortune that had seen him lose ground to the leaders.
“We really salvaged quite a bit,” he confirmed, “We were running fourth in the first race when the yellow came out, and everybody that was running from the back up to the front, we went from fourth to twelfth and still came out seventh. On day two, we had a broken rear shock and were limping around, but we still finished sixth so, to me, Sunday at Houston was a win for us. We should have probably finished 18th, 19th, 20th, and we ended up with a sixth. I'm really happy with the way Houston went and I'm looking forward to going to Pocono – I feel like I have unfinished business there.”
Pocono is the second leg of this year's 'Triple Crown' and, despite acknowledging how hard it is to win multiple 500-mile races in a single season, Hunter-Reay sees no reason to doubt his ability to do so.
“Coming off the heels of the Indy 500, I'm pretty confident in our oval package, especially on the bigger ovals, so hopefully we can make a big run for it,” he reasoned, “We had a good test there. It's something I'm looking forward to. Obviously the Triple Crown would be a huge honour to be a part of, but one step at a time, one stint at a time. We'll see how Pocono goes - one thing's for sure, it's going to be a hard-fought race.”