Regardless of whether or not he is crowned champion at this weekend’s season-ending IndyCars Series race at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay will be secure in the knowledge that he has a new two-year agreement with the Andretti Autosport team.
The American has been one of the sensations of the 2012 season – the first run under the series’ massively-changed regulations – winning four races to-date and positioned just seventeen points behind championship leader Will Power as they head into the last race of the year.
A team source confirmed the new contract extension to the Associated Press ahead of qualifying, and the team then officially announced the deal on the Saturday.
Hunter-Reay had been linked with a possible deal to join the Team Penske stable – with whom his main championship rival Will Power drives – but in the end, the Texas-born driver opted to stick with his current employer, with whom he has raced since 2010.
Hunter-Reay’s time in the IndyCar Series hasn’t always been plain sailing. After stints with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan, AJ Foyt and Vision Racing between 2008-9, he was a late sign-up to the Andretti team just when it looked as though a full-time role was out of reach.
Despite achieving some success with the squad, he also had to endure the indignity of failing to qualify for last year’s Indianapolis 500. He only made the starting grid when the team negotiated a deal for him to run in place of Bruno Junquiera – making a one-off appearance with the AJ Foyt Racing squad – to appease his sponsors. It was an embarrassing episode for the series, team and driver.
But the advent of the new Dallara DW12 chassis and a host of other rules changes has reinvigorated Hunter-Reay and brought about a major turnaround in performance in the Andretti stable, which also runs James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti.
Hunter-Reay began his 2012 campaign with podium finishes at the St Petersburg and Sao Paulo rounds, before launching a late championship charge with a hat trick of wins at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto to bring him back into title contention while series leader Power endured his now-customary mid-season dose of the yips.
Despite his own poor showings at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, he bounced back into the hunt with a fine win at Baltimore a fortnight ago to keep him in contention.
After such a successful season, Andretti had no hesitation in presenting the best offer to its star driver.
“We are happy to have Ryan back with us for the 2013 and 2014 IndyCar seasons,” team principal Michael Andretti said.
“He is a tough competitor and has become an important part of our team. [Ryan] is the ultimate team player and I know we can count on him, along with his teammates, to continue to be a foundation for us.
“[Ryan] is the ultimate team player and I know we can count on him, along with his teammates, to continue to be a foundation for us.”
“Today we are focused on leaving Fontana tonight with a championship,” Hunter-Reay added.
“I’m happy to be able to enjoy the off season knowing what the next two years hold.”