The migrant racing career of Ryan Hunter-Reay has already taken more twists and turns than a blind man trying to navigate the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit.
Three different teams in the Champ Car World Series, with a pair of wins; a Rookie of the Year award and a race win (Watkins Glen) in the Indy Racing League with Rahal Letterman Racing, followed by a split season last year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing.
IZOD factory backing helped Hunter-Reay move to Andretti Autosport over the winter. After a long and sometimes strange trip, he seems to have found a permanent home, in the car and out. Or should it be he hopes to have found a new home? Permanence in racing is about as long lasting as sponsor dollars keep hitting the direct deposit at the bank.
"It's been excellent - we've been on the podium half the time we've worked together and we've already won a race," Hunter-Reay said after Friday's drivers meeting, referring to his emotional victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
The 29-year old Florida native is one of a select group of drivers to have won on an oval, road and street course at the elite level of American open wheel racing and is the only active American driver to have done so. Adding an Indy 500 victory would probably raise his status from star to the superstar level.
After a sixth-place finish in his 2008 Indy 500 debut earned him Rookie of the Year honors, Hunter-Reay ran the 2009 race with Vision before replacing the injured Vitor Meira with Foyt. The game plan this time around is to be aggressively patient, if there is such a beast when the red mist triggered by the green flag starts flowing.
"We're going to just go out there and try to be aggressive, but we're going to let it come to us," Hunter-Reay said. "We're right in the middle of the pack so it'll be interesting to see where we are halfway through (the race). We've gotten great (pit) stops so far and the team has given me great race cars."
While Hunter-Reay is content to focus on the big race, it's hard to believe that the spectre of an uncertain future still does not tap him on the shoulder from time to time. The deal with Andretti technically runs through Texas, and despite numerous rumors of a contract extension to finish out the season, nothing has been confirmed.
Andretti has already announced plans to run A1GP champ and Formula 1 test driver Adam Carroll in select races, but no one seems willing to define whether it will be as Hunter-Reay's teammate or his replacement. Winning on Sunday would go a long way toward cementing a future with the team, as it is difficult to imagine IZOD wanting to see their poster driver rideless again, but stranger things have happened in the topsy-turvy world of big money racing.
"It's going to be a heck of a race all the way down to the finish. It's the best race in the world, it's going to be tight."
At this point, it's hard to say whether Hunter-Reay was referring to the upcoming Indy 500, or perhaps alluding to his career trajectory. Some strange trips never end.
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