HILLIARD, Ohio - Rahal Letterman Racing and driver Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) were pleased with a seventh-place finish in Homestead last weekend but by no means was either the driver or the team satisfied.
The blue-and-green Ethanol machine ran with the best the IndyCar Series had to offer for most of the evening in Homestead, earning the team its first top-10 Homestead finish in three years. Now the team looks to keep building as things move to the Gulf side of the state, as the series shifts to the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida for this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
For Hunter-Reay, the St. Pete street course holds a special meaning, as it was on these same streets where the young Floridian made his major-league racing debut back in 2003. Hunter-Reay started 12th and finished 16th in his very first Indy Car race, which was run under Champ Car sanction during its inaugural year. Now with five years under his belt, Hunter-Reay returns looking to build on last week's result.
"We're coming off a solid opening weekend in Miami and I know the entire team has really been looking forward to St. Pete," said Hunter-Reay. "Although the Miami race was my true hometown race, St. Pete is close and I have a lot of fan support there. I grew up racing karts in the area and love the Gulf side of Florida, it's the perfect setting for a street race. The inaugural St. Petersburg race was my first race in Champ Cars and I haven't been back since, I've really missed it."
The team has top-six finishes in three of its visits to St. Petersburg, including a fifth-place run with Vitor Meira in 2005. Michel Jourdain Jr. set the team's high-water mark in 2003 when he placed second in the inaugural race.
Ryan and the RLR team have been anticipating its first street course of the season as the demanding corners of the 1.806-mile course plays to the strengths of the Ohio-based squad. The team scored a seventh-place finish in its first outing with Hunter-Reay last year at Mid-Ohio and then earned a fifth-place starting spot on the temporary course at Belle Isle to post the team's best road-course qualifying mark in three seasons.
"We made significant progress in pace at the end of last season and we are all hoping our top five Belle Isle qualifying will be an indicator of our pace at St. Pete this weekend," Hunter-Reay reported. "From a mile-and-a-half oval one weekend, to a challenging street circuit is why I love IndyCar racing."