DAYTONA BEACH, Florida - Rahal Letterman Racing's 2007 IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay peered through the rain and spray, slipped around NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and into the lead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, building a lead of more than 12 seconds ahead of Johnson, former Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger and current IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti.

Problem was, it was only 3 a.m.

Hunter-Reay led the 66-car field for 10 laps through the dark Daytona night before handing his #91 Riley-Matthews Pontiac over to Marc Goosens and headed back to his motorcoach to try and rest up for the final push to the checkered flag - which would come 10 long hours later. Unfortunately, the drivers would last longer than the car, which suffered a problem just prior to sunup that cost the team 15 laps and any chance at a Rolex 24 victory.

But the problem did not dim the performance of Hunter-Reay, who won honors as the top rookie in the IndyCar Series last season after joining RLR halfway through the season. Hunter-Reay was at his best when conditions were best, passing some of the sport's top drivers during the rain, at night in an unfamiliar Grand-Am car.

"It was pretty cool to be running up front in this race," said Hunter-Reay. "It reminded me of my karting days when it was fun just to be out there. Everybody was searching for the fast line in the rain, there was a lot of traffic and it wasn't easy, but we were able to put up some good laps and pull a gap on those guys. Just too bad not many people were awake to see it!"

Hunter-Reay will leave Daytona Sunday afternoon and head for the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he will participate in an IndyCar test with the #17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone for RLR. The 2008 IndyCar Series season gets underway at Homestead March 29.

-credit: rlr