July 20, 2012  |   By Bruce Martin

Hunter-Reay Aiming To Expand Star-Spangled Lead In Points At Edmonton

It’s off to Edmonton for the IZOD IndyCar Series for the Edmonton Indy on Sunday, July 22, and there is an American driver leading the pack for the last of two IndyCar contests in Canada in July.

Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport has taken the points lead from Team Penske’s Will Power of Australia and has a 34-point edge heading to the 13-turn, 2.224-mile temporary street course at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport. But Power has a decided advantage at this venue based on his past history because he has won two of the last three races in this city located in the Great Canadian Prairies.

Power is hoping that with the very long straightaways heading into Turn 1, Turn 5 and the final turn that the return of push-to-pass will add a new dynamic to this contest.

“There should be some good racing,” Power said. “You've got three good longs to pass, so that's more than most tracks. So I should expect a pretty good race. It (push-to-pass) definitely helps your car, there's no question. If you use it, chances are you're going to get by the guy. Although, it's not like Toronto where you can pass on the outside here. Obviously, you learn to block, and block always inside the white line now. That potentially could make it a little difficult.”

The Team Penske driver is going to have to make a “Powerful statement” to Hunter-Reay in Sunday’s race if he hopes to tighten the championship battle. But Power knows Hunter-Reay’s three-race winning streak has boosted his confidence level. The only two drivers this season to win three races in a row are Power, to open the season at Barber, Long Beach and Sao Paulo, and Hunter-Reay, who has won at the Milwaukee Mile, Iowa Speedway and the Honda Indy Toronto.

“Really, he's always been strong,” Power said of Hunter-Reay. “This year, he's definitely been more consistent. But, you know, in my opinion, he was always, every weekend or every track you went to, you could always count on him to win, and the only difference now is he's putting it all together and he's executing week in, week out. In my opinion, he's the strongest guy in IndyCar racing right now. He's strong in both disciplines, oval and road.

“But I also see Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon as the main guys that all can win the championship right now.”

Team Penske driver and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil is third in points, 46 behind Hunter-Reay. 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand is fourth, 54 points out of first place.

Canada’s James Hinchcliffe is fifth in points, 67 behind Hunter-Reay with five races remaining.

“To win the championship, things have got to go your way,” Power said. “But, I think week in, week out, you've got to be knocking on the door. You've got to be up there with a chance to win every weekend, and if you can't do it, you accept what you've got and get the most out of it. You know, don't try to force the issue and have a DNF. That's how I see it; the guy that does that the best is going to win this year.

“I feel as though I'm definitely a contender, I really do. I feel as though if we get everything right the next four races, or how many do we have to go, five races, we have a legitimate chance of winning this championship. Now, I think we will if we get it all right, because I feel as though we are one of the quickest out there, and when things go right on the weekend, I think we are always on the podium, or you know we win the race. So that's kind of what we've got to do.”

This will be the second year that the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers will compete on the current Edmonton track. Because of runway issues at the airport, the course had to be changed, and now the race course is on the opposite side of the airport.

“The old track was like the toughest driving track, just corner after corn after corner, high speeds and bumpy and as tough as you get as a driver,” Power said. “So everyone enjoyed that track, just driving. The new circuit, I think it creates good racing. So you know, anywhere that you can pass, it's like Toronto; we all love Toronto. But if you would just drive around that track just by yourself, you probably couldn't think much of it. But as an actual racetrack, to race on it, it's one of the best for the single fact that it's great racing, and that's what the new Edmonton track has got.

“Well, I think the fans are pretty passionate there. I like the city, personally, though I can't speak for anyone else. I enjoy going there. It's a nice place.”

In two Champ Car Series races at Edmonton, Power finished sixth in 2006 and 15th in 2007. After Champ Car merged with the Indy Racing League to become the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2008, Power finished 22nd in 2008 before starting an impressive streak in 2009. That year he started on the pole and led 90 laps of the 95 laps to win the race. He won the pole again in 2010 but finished second in a race that Dixon won after race-leader Castroneves was black-flagged for blocking on the final restart of the race.

Power started second and finished first on the new Edmonton layout last year.

By comparison, Hunter-Reay finished 16th at Edmonton in Champ Car in 2005. He finished eighth in 2008, 17th in 2009, fifth in 2010 and was seventh last year.

Hunter-Reay is attempting to become the first driver to win four races in a row since 2006 when Sébastien Bourdais of France won four races to start the Champ Car season.

“I don't know if I would say I expected to be the points leader,” Hunter-Reay said. “I certainly expected to be contending for the championship. You know, it's just nice to see that this team is reaching its potential because the potential has been there. I feel lucky to be working with these guys. It's a great group, and we have even better performances in us in the future. So it's been a lot of fun, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves, like I've been saying. It's lap by lap, and just concentrate on being solid.”

Unlike Power, Hunter-Reay isn’t sure if push-to-pass will play a big role in determining a race winner Sunday at Edmonton.

“I think push-to-pass is cool, but I didn't use much of it at Toronto,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think these cars have been doing an excellent job on their own. I don't think they need any help to spice up the racing. It's been excellent this year. It's been a blast to be a part of it. When you watch the races again on TV, it's pretty impressive to see that we're putting on that kind of show. I don't know. I'm not sold on the push-to-pass. But if we're going to have to, it's another variable in the race. Hopefully, we'll use more of it in Edmonton because we didn't use very much of it in Toronto.”

So far this season, Hunter-Reay has won on two short ovals and one street course. Over the remaining five races, there are two street courses (Edmonton and Baltimore), two permanent road courses (Mid-Ohio and Sonoma) and one superspeedway (Fontana).

“To do well in the series and in this championship, you've got to kind of master it all,” Hunter-Reay said. “We have some great racetracks coming up with two road courses, two street circuits and an oval. I love them all. I really do. When you have a good car on an oval, that is some of the most fun you can have, really, in a race car. I've found some success on road and street circuits, as well.

“I don't know what my stronger suit is, really. It's kind of tough to pin that one down.

“The singular focus is qualify and run in the top six, that's it. If we do that, we're most likely going to stay out of trouble, and we'll be contending for the win. That's the big thing. We have to be solid. We have to be in the top six. We don't need to light the world on fire. We need to go out and gun it, hoping for more wins. That's what we want to do. We're going to win races. If not, our bad days need to be fifth or sixth place, and our good days need to be wins. That's where we're at.”

For years, one of the knocks on IndyCar racing was there weren’t enough American drivers winning races. This year, Hunter-Reay has become the flag-waver for the USA.

“I'm definitely honored to be carrying the American flag at the front right now, and every time I get on the podium, I raise that thing up there because I'm proud of it,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think what hits home for me is when I was a kid, before I started racing go-karts, my dad took me to a couple Indy-car races in Miami, and I watched the series as a fan of the sport, as a fan of the series. I was really focused on the American drivers. I don't know why that is. I was just a kid. So I didn't have any agenda or anything like that.

“I just really, really liked to watch the American drivers. I liked to watch Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears, the big American guys, Al Unser Jr., the big names. I loved watching those guys. Even as recently as (Jimmy) Vasser in '96, when he had such a great year.

“I feel like now that I'm in IndyCar and doing well, hopefully there is some kid sitting there doing the same thing, so that's kind of cool.”