Ryan Hunter-Reay has an itch he has been unable to scratch in St. Petersburg.
In five attempts, the top spot on the podium at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has eluded the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion, who finished third last year and was second in 2009.
“It’d be nice to win,” he said. “I finished second and third in years past, so I’ve covered every step on the podium except the top one. That’s a big deal for me.”
In 2003, Hunter-Reay competed in St. Pete in the ChampCar series. It was his first “big gig in the big cars,” he said. Now 32, the Texas-born racer, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, plans to cross the St. Pete race off his to-do list.
“It’s big,” he said. “This is my home race and I really care about this race. It’s kind of the Florida-model race for us, right on the water with all of the boats there. It’s what Florida is all about and I love IndyCar racing. It’s the two things I love together so I need to put a win together hopefully soon.”
With his six podium finishes, along with seven in the top five in 15 IndyCar events, in addition to winning at least one race for three consecutive seasons, Hunter-Reay is the most successful American driver currently competing in open-wheel competition. The 2007 IndyCar Rookie of the Year is hoping to use his performance in St. Pete to catapult his momentum through the remainder of the series.
“We need to start the season off on the right foot,” he said. “That’s the biggest strategy, is to win and to be on the podium at least. Last year here, we finished third and that started our championship run. So we need a good solid weekend here.”
Hunter-Reay won four races last season, which included three consecutive wins at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto. He also captured the Grand Prix of Baltimore. He finished fourth in the MAVTV 500 in California last September en route to his first championship with 468 points, only three points ahead of runner-up Will Power. In 2010 and ’11, Hunter-Reay finished seventh.
Racer Magazine rewarded Hunter-Reay, who races for the Andretti Autosport team, by naming him the overall Racer of the Year and Road Racer of the Year, making him the first overall recipient from North American open-wheel racing since in 2003 and the first IZOD IndyCar Series Champion and first American-born open-wheel champion. He was also awarded the A.J. Foyt Trophy.
“It was certainly a hard-fought season, a lot of pressure and stresses the last few race, but that’s what Indy Car racing is all about,” Hunter-Reay said. “The past few years, the championship has come down to the last few laps on the last race, and there’s not many championships in the world when that happens. This series does a great job of putting great products on the track, and the talent we have up here really shows it.”
Hunter-Reay said he appreciates the St. Pete course for its good passing zones and high-speed corners. Though the pressure of defending his championship officially begins this weekend, Hunter-Reay said he has no plans to alter the formula that has led to his success.
“We’ve obviously worked on the racecars from last year and we’ve developed them to be quicker than they were last year, but other than that, no, we’ll take the same approach that we took last year, which is we need to go win races.”