IndyCar has not just an American-born champion in Ryan Hunter-Reay, but a good old-fashioned, against-all-odds, rags-to-riches underdog in RHR. In other words, a quintessential American champion.
Since somewhere around the time Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. began fading from the scene, the large us-versus-them contingent of open-wheel racing fans in the United States – whether we’re talking about the late CART/Champ Car or IndyCar – have sought an American hero to defend our soil against the invading hordes from overseas (never mind that most of the “furriners” ended up making their homes here and some have become citizens).
Well, if you need an American IndyCar hero, consider Hunter-Reay’s resume: a winner in each of his first two CART seasons (2003-04) with two different, way-underfunded teams; out of major-league racing – well, a couple A1GP rounds – for almost two years because of a lack of finance; picked up mid season by Bobby Rahal’s team in 2007, giving it a win in ’08 before – again – being dropped for lack of $$$; after a year of scrambling in 2009, picked up by Andretti Autosport for a partial 2010 IndyCar schedule, only to turn early impressive performances and a powerful win in Long Beach into a full time, and funded, gig that continues today.
Plus, look at this championship season. Hunter-Reay took the clear lead-dog role on a resurgent Andretti team, taking the fight to the previously unbeatable Penske and Ganassi squads.
A mid season three-race win streak gave him the points lead, and while a mechanical failure at Mid-Ohio and a nonsensical punt from Alex Tagliani while holding third place at Sonoma appeared to knock him from title contention, RHR stayed alive with a do-or-die win in the next-to-last race at Baltimore, then came from behind to snare the crown with a fighting fourth in the California finale after points leader Will Power crashed out.
It’s also worth noting that while so many talk about Power’s blazing speed and bad luck, along with the speed of Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves and the championship savvy of Dario Franchitti, Hunter-Reay won more races than anyone else on the circuit this year, four to Power’s three, the way a true champion should. And he’s still just 32 years old.
Like I said a quintessential American champion.