By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer
For the second year in a row, Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from a mechanical problem on the parade lap to finish fifth in today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Hunter-Reay qualified eighth on Saturday, but started today’s race from the pit lane as his No. 28 DHL Honda’s electrical control unit malfunctioned on the lap leading up to the green flag.
The Andretti Autosport driver was saved by a yellow flag on lap three as Charlie Kimball stalled on course. That allowed him to catch up and alter his strategy to compensate for time lost.
He clawed forward during the race’s first half and a string of three full-course cautions from laps 28-44 allowed the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion to work into the top ten as varied strategies shuffled the leaderboard.
Hunter-Reay floated near the top five and took the lead on Lap 84 before making his final pit stop a lap later. With the pit cycle complete, Hunter-Reay was running comfortably in sixth place when Rene Binder crashed on Lap 102, bringing out the race’s sixth yellow flag.
The action was slowed again as Max Chilton’s trip into the tires on the restart set the stage for a two-lap dash to the finish.
On the final restart, Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi collided with race leader Robert Wickens heading into Turn 1. Hunter-Reay drove through the accident unscathed. The yellow flag ended the race as Sebastien Bourdais took the win and Hunter-Reay finished fifth.
The finish is Hunter-Reay’s fourth straight top five at the 1.8-mile street circuit. Even with the come-from-behind performance, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion felt that he had a better car than he finished.
“We started the race from pit lane and ended up fifth, so a great job by the team,” said Hunter-Reay. “I was hustling my rear end off out there today.”
“That 28 DHL Honda sure was quick and deserved a better finish than it had. We just need to have better luck or no luck, and hopefully, we can start finishing these things right up at the front.”
With the series’ second round at the ISM Raceway less than a month away, Hunter-Reay hopes that he can put the bad luck behind him going forward.
“The bad luck seems to end up happening at just the worst times,” he said. “The car has been awesome all weekend, so to have an electronic issue happen when we are coming to the green – man, the luck.”