Edmonton Indy: Hunter-Reay hungrier than ever as he seeks fourth straight victory
IndyCar leader was at rock bottom in 2006 before meteoric rise this year
EDMONTON - In 2006, Ryan Hunter-Reay was without a car, a sponsor, without much in the way of possibilities.
He even wondered if his days as an open wheel driver were over.
So when he talks about his success today, there’s a point of perspective that punctuates his words.
With wins in three straight races, Hunter-Reay has vaulted from fifth place to first in the IndyCar driver standings.
He is currently holding a 34-point lead over Will Power in the championship race, and with just five races left on the schedule, starting with Sunday’s race at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport, the title is certainly within his reach.
“When you’ve been at the bottom and you’ve weathered the lows, that makes you even hungrier when you’re in a position like this,” he said after his victory at the Toronto Indy and before the circuit moved to Edmonton.
Hunter-Reay has never finished higher than seventh in the standings, never won more than one race in an IndyCar season.
This season, his third with Andretti Autosport, the 31-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida has won on oval tracks, starting with the flat Milwaukee circuit on June 16, then on the banked circuit at Iowa a week later, and he took the checkered flag on Toronto’s narrow road course.
Without question, he will be the man to watch in Edmonton, where he is poised to become the first driver to win four consecutive races since Sebastien Bourdais won four straight to open the 2006 Champ Car season.
“Love the circuit layout,” Hunter-Reay continued. “Last year, I think we had the car to win there, and we’re on our way to doing it. But I made a bit of an over-aggressive move on Takuma Sato and took a penalty for it, and that ruined our day.
“So I have some unfinished business in Edmonton.”
Hunter-Reay was seventh last season and fifth in 2010, but that was then — now, he’s the IndyCar leader.
“I don’t have that feeling that ‘holy crap, it’s happening’. It is amazing we’ve won three in a row, but I do feel like we’ve been capable of it all season,” he said. “It is a relief to see that we’re getting the results and that we’re reaching our potential. That’s the big thing for me.
“It’s hard to win one race, let alone three in a row, so we’re having a great time with it, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We are looking at the big picture and there’s still a lot of racing to go.”
The last time an American led the championship points race was Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, which is ironic given that when founder Tony George left CART in 1996, he wanted to create a series for American drivers. This season, there are seven Americans in the series, the most since 2007.
Michael Andretti, who obviously has a vested interest in Hunter-Reay, figures he’s got the best of that crop. Last week, he went so far as to say that his driver really doesn’t have a weakness.
Hunter-Reay responded that it was heady praise considering the source, but added that the team has had a heavy hand in the recent run.
“We’ve been together for three years, and there’s cohesiveness, there’s chemistry, and that’s what’s making a difference for me,” said the pilot of the #28 car. “I’ve found a home.”
In 2003, his first season in the Champ Car World Series, Hunter-Reay became the first American rookie in 20 years to win a race, then he followed up with another victory the following season, but in 2005, he switched teams and struggled to the point where he found himself out of the series.
In July of 2007, he was recruited by Rahal Letterman Racing as a replacement driver, and Hunter-Reay did enough to earn a full-time ride. Before the 2009 season, however, Rahal Letterman, citing a lack of sponsorship, pulled out of IndyCar, and Hunter-Reay wound up flipping between Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt.
It was in 2010 that Hunter-Reay’s career really started to veer off in another direction.
Andretti wanted him to drive for the opening six races, but after three top-five results in the first five races — including a victory at Long Beach — he not only parked himself in the car for the remainder of the season, he took away a two-year contract.
“They do say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and that really applies here, because I’ve been at the bottom. I was at the point where I figured I was going to have to go do something else,” Hunter-Reay said. “My career was a few weeks from being over, and now, to be back to this point is very rewarding. I do appreciate every day on the job.
“What’s really shocked me is that after the wins, I haven’t felt different about anything. I haven’t felt a big sense of relief. I feel hungrier now than I ever have. I’ve been in a position where I didn’t have a ride for a full year in 2006, so now that we’re on this high, it makes me really want to take advantage of this situation and make the most of it. There is no sense of complacency.
“Right now, the team’s just clicking. There is a really good chemistry going on. It’s fun to be driving at Andretti Autosport right now.”
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