The Field Grows to Thirty-Three

On Wednesday, we got confirmation for the thirty-third car and driver combination for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay has been announced in the No. 23 car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR), teaming up with former Andretti Autosport teammate Stefan Wilson.

We now know there will be no scrounging around for a last-minute entry to get the field to the magical thirty-three. Contrary to what one former track official once said. Thirty-three is not just a number. The last time the Indianapolis 500 had fewer than thirty-three cars in the field was 1947, when only thirty cars qualified – due to a threatened drivers strike by ASPAR. I won’t go into all that, but suffice it to say it was a long, ugly and convoluted trail of events that hung over the Month of May and ultimately minimized the field.

I will admit, I was a little caught off-guard by the Hunter-Reay announcement. Not that I have any inside info, but none of the shows, articles or IndyCar podcasts that I pay attention to had any real chatter about Hunter-Reay being a real possibility for anything this late in the game. I had always thought that he was the lead candidate for the fourth Rahal car that eventually went to Katherine Legge. After she was announced, I had really heard nothing regarding Hunter-Reay.

In all honesty, I had mentally penciled in Linus Lundqvist for the DRR ride. I had heard he was close to announcing something. I knew that Honda had fulfilled their allotment of engines for the 500, so if Lundqvist had anything to announce – it would most likely be with a Chevy team. The No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold car fit that bill.

I really want Lundqvist to get a ride for the May, but I am happy that another experienced Indianapolis 500 driver will be in the field. With the addition of Hunter-Reay, that brings the total of former 500 winners in the field to nine – one short of the record ten, set in 1992. Last year’s 500 had eight former winners. This year picked up Marcus Ericsson and Hunter-Reay, but lost Juan Montoya.

Some will say that Ryan Hunter-Reay should not get a ride over Lundqvist. They say his time has come and gone, due to the fact that he is now 42 and hasn’t driven an Indy car since the 2021 season-finale at Long Beach. I disagree.

If you are looking at it from DRR’s standpoint, who would be an easier sell to potential sponsors. An experienced American IndyCar driver with a championship and an Indianapolis 500 on his resume, or a foreign rookie that most of the general public has never heard of? From that point of view, Hunter-Reay is the answer ten times out of ten.

When you think about which driver gives your team the best chance to win, Hunter-Reay gets the nod there too. While there is no doubt that Lundquist is a talented driver, making their IndyCar debut in the Indianapolis 500 is a tall order no matter who it is. It would also be no help to him that his teammate (Wilson) has only five IndyCar starts in his career.

If I’m Wilson or Don Cusick, I would much prefer to have the experienced Hunter-Reay come to the team. Wilson can soak up Hunter-Reay’s knowledge throughout the month, rather than have to be something of a mentor to Lundqvist.

The time will eventually come for Linus Lundqvist, but time is quickly running out for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Lundqvist doesn’t want to hear such talk, but it’s true. He will turn twenty-four next weekend. At that age, I’m sure he feels like opportunities are quickly passing him by, but those of us that are (much) older, know that is simply not true. He is too good to be sitting on the sidelines much longer. But in the meantime, I’m happy to see Hunter-Reay getting at least one more shot.

I have an idea that when Hunter-Reay was done with the 2021 Indianapolis 500, he had no clue that he would not be back the following May. He probably knew there was a good chance that he may not be back with Andretti Autosport after twelve seasons, but he probably figured he would land somewhere. He didn’t.

After he had no fulltime ride for 2022, Hunter-Reay announced he would not take just any ride for the 500. He would only climb in a car capable of winning. Ultimately, he got no offers that we know of. I think he wanted one more shot bad enough he was willing to lower his standards some – just to have one more shot. That’s not to say that Dreyer & Reinbold are not capable of winning, but I doubt their odds will be as good as those from Penske or Ganassi (or Andretti, for that matter).

Will Lundqvist get a shot this year? Some are speculating that we are not done seeing entries for this year’s 500. If we get to 34, I really wish we could get to 35. I hate to see just one car go home – but some bumping is better than none.

Congratulations to Ryan Hunter-Reay! We look forward to seeing him back at The Speedway. I hope he has a very successful and fulfilling Month of May.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “The Field Grows to Thirty-Three”

  1. I’ve never been a fan of Ryan Hunter-Reay so I wasn’t happy to learn this news but I do agree it will be good for Stefan Wilson. They would have worked together the year Wilson drove for Andretti and hopefully will work well together. The bright side of this news is hopefully an advantage for Stefan and Don Cusick, I am a huge fan of them both.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Certainly the most accomplished available driver that DRR could have put in the seat (as I’m pretty sure Montoya was not “available” to them). Hunter-Reay was fast and competitive at Indy even in his last couple miserable years with Andretti so I will be curious to see what he can get out of DRR’s cars. Some patient driving by Karam and Ferrucci has put DRR into the top 10 two years running, but the cars have not been great qualifiers. Hunter-Reay should help in that department, and maybe finish even further up in the field.

  3. Where will Linus take his $500,000? I think a 500 ride cost in the region of $800,000 so hopefully Penske Entertainment would be able to assist in finding a sponsor for the good of NXT. I expect that if the budget and engine is forthcoming Linus would be sitting in a Coyne/HMD entry. Very much hope so.

  4. If only…
    I am truly glad to see Ryan Hunter-Reay get one more shot at the Indy 500. There are also many others that “I wish” could have a shot at qualifying. I would love to not only see Paretta Autosport with an entry for Simona De Silvestro, but also agree on Linus Lundqvist getting a chance. I would love to see Pippa Mann, Oriol Servia, and many others get another shot too. In my mind I know there are $$$, engine and chassis limitations, but in my heart, I wish there were no such limitations and any good driver/team could at least attempt to qualify. But that would easily put us into the 40+ car range, and I don’t think I will ever see that again in my lifetime. So I am realistically hoping for a 34 – 35 car field attempting to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

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