After an off-season waiting for any opportunity that could possibly arise, Ryan Hunter-Reay will be on the grid in a Vision Racing entry for this upcoming IndyCar season. Hunter-Reay will team with Ed Carpenter at Vision, and drive the No. 21 Dallara-Honda.
Official sponsorship is still in the process of being determined. Reports that Hunter-Reay would pilot a Vision entry leaked out on Friday, but it took until tonight for an official confirmation from both team and driver.
"This is a huge opportunity on so many levels," Hunter-Reay said. "I am very grateful to Laura and Tony George for their confidence in me and making this a reality."
"While the timing and circumstances surrounding Ryan's arrival at Vision Racing have been less the ideal given that we are just a few days from the season-opener at St. Pete, the opportunity to welcome such a proficient driver and individual to the team was more than favorable," said team co-owner Tony George.
Last week "RHR" had his best opportunity to showcase his talents with a private test at Sebring for HVM Racing. According to team owner Keith Wiggins, resources were unavailable for that team to run a second car the entire season as had been rumored for several weeks.
The Boca Raton, FL native, 28, spent months waiting on any chance when his employer the last season and a half, Rahal Letterman Racing, decided to not renew its series participation.
The team co-owned by Bobby Rahal and David Letterman lost their primary backer, the American Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, and have instead focused on running two BMW M3s in the GT2 class of the American Le Mans Series.
Most perplexing about Hunter-Reay's situation was that he had agreed to a personal services contract with clothing company IZOD mere weeks after winning rookie-of-the-year honors at last year's Indianapolis 500, ten months ago, and has been not confirmed until now.
IZOD is preparing for a multi-million dollar marketing assault with Hunter- Reay to promote both driver and the IndyCar Series. Included in the campaign is a television commercial, print ads in sports magazines (Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine) and other promotions.
"Throughout the off-season, I have been working closely with Terry Angstadt's commercial and marketing staff at IndyCar and the great folks at IZOD, relentlessly attacking this thing from every angle; my sincere appreciation to all involved," said Hunter-Reay.
In the 2008 season, besides his Indianapolis accolades, Hunter-Reay scored his first IRL-sanctioned victory at Watkins Glen.
He finished highest in the standings of drivers not driving for the anointed "big three" teams of Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Green Racing, eighth overall.
Hunter-Reay is also the only driver to have won in all three iterations of American open-wheel racing since 1996, CART, Champ Car and IndyCar. He has one win in each.
Besides the series' TEAM (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) allotments, series officials have more or less said teams are on their own in finding the necessary funds for competing. The combination of this and the economy have contributed to a smaller car count than in 2008.
"We're not in a position to subsidize teams," said the series' commercial division president Terry Angstadt in a February 18 conference call. "We are working real hard to help secure sponsorship for teams with a dedicated sales team, doing presentations, doing research, trying to do all the things to assist. But writing checks we just can't do."
For 2009 at least, it comes down to George's support in ensuring that one of the series' few American stars has an outlet to showcase what his personal backer signed on for.
Hunter-Reay is one of 21 drivers listed on the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg entry list, released today.
Conquest Racing filed an entry, No. 34 with the driver still to be determined, though it is likely either Alex Tagliani or Jaime Camara will fill that void having each driven for the team last season. Milka Duno is not on the entry list as her backing appears to have fallen through. Darren Manning, winner at The Glen last year, is still searching for the apparent elusive ride. The list is not final and, like many things in IndyCar these days, subject to change.