CHAMPCAR/CART: Hunter-Reay reflects on ladder climb

Hunter-Reay takes final step on the Ladder into Champ Cars. Success up the Champ Car Ladder; professional racing from Barber Dodge Pro Series to Toyota Atlantic to Champ Car. Barber Dodge Pro Series alumni Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive for the ...

Hunter-Reay takes final step on the Ladder into Champ Cars.
Success up the Champ Car Ladder; professional racing from Barber Dodge Pro Series to Toyota Atlantic to Champ Car.

Barber Dodge Pro Series alumni Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive for the new American Spirit Team Johansson Champ Car team along with veteran Jimmy Vasser, taking the Florida native to the top rung of the Champ Car ladder. Hunter-Reay is a product of the Barber-CART ladder system, having participated in the program since he first moved from go karts into race cars in 1998, beginning with a Skip Barber Three Day Racing School just like Juan Montoya and Brian Herta did before him. Hunter-Reay then moved up every rung on the ladder, developing his race craft to match his natural speed, and generating over $650,000 in financial support from Skip Barber. Hunter-Reay raced in the Skip Barber Race Series after winning a season of racing in the inaugural Skip Barber Karting Scholarship in 1998, and won the 1999 Formula Dodge National Championship. This accomplishment then secured his seat in the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series championship, where he finished fifth in the overall championship with four top-five finishes and two podiums in his first season, giving him Rookie of the Year honors, providing him with another funded seat for 2001, when he returned to the Pro Series to take two wins, at Lime Rock Park and Toronto.

Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Photo by Ange Lisuzzo.
Hunter-Reay believes that he would not have had the opportunity to get into Champ Cars if he had not made the decision to get involved with the Skip Barber program.

"I went right into Skip Barber from go carts, and it was a great choice, said Hunter-Reay. They taught me everything I know in race cars, from when to be aggressive and when to be patient, and the coaching staff is excellent. It made a huge impression on my career.

In 2002, Hunter-Reay stepped up again, moving to the Toyota Atlantic series with Hylton Motorsports, where he made a quick impression in the very competitive series, taking three pole positions, and three wins, at Cleveland, Chicago, and Laguna Seca.

Hunter-Reay got his first opportunity to drive a Champ Car last November, when he participated in testing with Dale Coyne as the team began work on the new Ford engine package. Hunter-Reay impressed Coyne with his speed and consistency, and the test left Hunter-Reay wanting more. Hunter-Reay feels that he has benefited tremendously from the ladder system, and is truly excited about this new opportunity.

I've been working for this since the first day of karting and finally now everything is just beginning, said Hutner-Reay. I just really have to take advantage of the situation. I'm going to be learning from some unbelievable experience here with Jimmy and Stefan Johansson as a team owner. I'm going to learn from Jimmy and my engineer, Graham Taylor. It's just going to be excellent. I just have to be a sponge this season and I'm going to be going 110 percent from the first turn.

Hunter-Reay credited the CART Mentor program, which gives young drivers the opportunity to spend a race weekend with teams they aspire to race for in the future, with helping him feel comfortable now with his new teammate.

The best thing is Jimmy and I knew each other before this as I did the mentor program with him as well and he was a big help. So it's just the whole CART ladder system coming together. I couldn't ask for a better situation for my first season. I have to pinch myself now and then. Really, my goals for this coming season, just learn as much as I can, and so much there, but don't get me wrong, from the first test, I'm there to win races. I'm there to learn. So rookie of the year would be a goal and I am really just learn from all the experience of the team. Jimmy, as we've been talking about and myself, are just going to take advantage of every opportunity."

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Series ATLANTIC , BARBER-PRO , INDYCAR