Hungry hunter

Ryan Hunter-Raey it's been a long time coming. In June and July Hunter-Reay won three IndyCar races in a row, taking the points lead from Will Power and he's confident that he and Michael Andreffi's Chevrolet-powered outfit have what it takes to beat Power Helio Castroneves and Team Penske to the championship.

Ryan is 31 and has been racing Indy-type cars since 2003 after serving his apprenticeship in karts, Skip Barber's Formula Dodge series and Formula Atlantic. He won three Atlantic races in 2002 and drove for Stefan Johansson's short-lived Champ Car team in '03, scoring his first win at Surfers Paradise. The following year he won the Milwaukee Champ Car race, then spent the next couple of seasons primarily racing Grand-Am cars.

Hunter-Reay finally went IndyCar full-time with Bobby Rahal's team in the middle of 2007 and won for Rahal at Watkins Glen the following summer before splitting the '09 season with AJ Foyt's team and Tony George's Vision Racing. He got his big break when Andreffi hired him in 2010 and has established himself as Andreffi's team leader, winning in Long Beach two years ago and New Hampshire last year before emerging this season as a championship contender. Hunter-Reay is a soft-spoken gentleman who rarely loses his composure and drives in a like-minded way, cleanly and consistently.

"It's just nice to see this team reaching its potential because it's always been there," Ryan says. "I feel lucky to be working with these guys. It's a great group and I think we have even better performances in us in the future. It's been a lot of fun, but we're not gaffing ahead of ourselves. We've got a long way to go. We're just focused on having solid pace, week in and week out, and puffing ourselves in a position to win races. "The environment in the team is the best it's been. It's united and that's nice. It's just cohesive and the chemistry is there. I think it really lends itself to the fact that I've found a home here. I've been with the team for three years now and that makes a big difference. I've had the opportunity to drive for many different teams and what's nice about that is you really get to hone your skills in developing relationships with people relationships that actually benefit on the racetrack."

At Indianapolis in May team owner Michael Andreffi switched from son Marco's car to calling the strategy for Hunter-Reay. "With Michael you've got a legend there calling the race and talking in my car" Ryan says. "It couldn't get much better for me."

Hunter-Reay says he and team-mates Andreffi and James Hinchcliffe enjoy a genuinely friendly relationship. "At Andreffi Autosport it really is three teams working together. We're all good friends and we don't let egos stand in the way. The communication is free-flowing. When something benefits me, we share it with the other guys and vice versa, and that's the way a three-car team is supposed to work. That's why you have three cars, so you have three times the amount of information going around compared with a one-car team. I think it's working as it's supposed to.

"Certainly James has been a great addition but Marco and I have had a good relationship since I came to the team. We share set-ups. Each driver likes their own thing in the car, especially at street circuits. James and I are a little bit closer on set-up at street circuits. But on the ovals we all match. I could jump in Marco's car and he could jump in mine. We all like the same thing."

If Hunter-Reay wins the title this year he'll become IndyCar's first American champion since Sam Hornish in 2006. "There's no sense of complacency," he says. "I feel hungrier now than I ever have. I've been in a position in 2006 when I didn't have a ride for a full year. So I've certainly felt the lows and now that we're on this high it makes me really want to take advantage of the situation and make the most of it."

Gordon Kirby