Hunter-Reay top American on IZOD IndyCar Series

Ryan Hunter-Reay is living the American dream as the country’s top open-wheel race car driver.

The 31-year-old from Florida accepts the role as the leading American racer on the IZOD IndyCar Series for now, but wants to be the best period.

Hunter-Reay currently sits seventh in the IndyCar Series points race, sitting only eight points back of third entering Saturday’s Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

“IndyCar is an international series with the best from around the world,” Hunter-Reay said. “I do take a lot of pride being one of the top Americans.”

He also praised Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter, but Hunter-Reay has more IndyCar wins than all current American drivers combined. The distinction hits close to home. He recalled rooting for American stars while growing up, including Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser and Robby Gordon. Now, he is in a position to influence young race fans the same way.

“I looked up to those guys. Those are the guys I wanted to win on Sunday,” Hunter-Reay said. “It certainly is a dream come true being an American in IndyCar, but I want to be that same guy. I want to be the successful American.”

Hunter-Reay developed a passion for racing as a youth. His dad loved cars, and it became a bond between the two, attending races including the Miami Grand Prix. Hunter-Reay’s love for cars transferred to running them, resulting in his current success.

“My dad was a gear head. He always loved cars and I did, too,” Hunter-Reay said. “He ended up buying me a little go-kart for the neighborhood. I peeled out in too many people’s lawns and that’s what basically led me to the race track. I never looked back from there.”

In 79 career IndyCar starts, Hunter-Reay has five wins, 16 top-five finishes and 41 in the top-10. He earned IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, needing a record-low six races to claim the award. Hunter-Reay is also the only driver to capture wins in IndyCar, CART, ChampCar, American Le Mans and GrandAm Series.

This year, Hunter-Reay has two top-five finishes and three in the top-10, placing as high as second at the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on April 29. Despite a frustrating Indianapolis 500, where he qualified third but finished 27th after mechanical issues with his suspension, he said it is his strongest start yet.

“It’s going to be one of the toughest as well, because we have a lot of competition going on right now,” said Hunter-Reay, who has one win each of the last two seasons. “We’re up for the fight. Hopefully, we’ll have our performance continue the way it has.”

The biggest obstacle is passing the deep talent and pockets of IZOD IndyCar’s top teams. The circuit remains dominated by Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing and their international drivers.

The new IndyCar introduced this season has levelled the playing field slightly. Everyone is at step one, learning the intricacies of the new engine and set-up.

“Penske and Ganassi are still at the forefront,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ve done a good job chipping into that advantage this year. Results talk. They’re doing a great job.

“We need to get back in there. I believe Andretti Autosport can put myself and my teammates in a position to win. That’s what it is going to take to really become a household name in the series.”

Hunter-Reay will race at Iowa Speedway in Newton for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 June 23. Teammate Marco Andretti won the event last year. Hunter-Reay enjoys the uniqueness and challenge of the .875-mile oval. He has had success, racing there since 2008 and claiming a top-five finish.

“Iowa (Speedway) is one of the best race tracks we have on the schedule,” said Hunter-Reay, noting IndyCar is the only series to compete on a mix of Superspeedways, short ovals, road courses and street circuits. “It’s track is unlike any other. It’s a short oval with high banks. It races like a one-and-a-half mile speedway.

“It makes for great racing.”

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