FONTANA, California Now that Ryan Hunter-Reay has given the United States its first IZOD IndyCar Series champion since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006, the next step is for the Andretti Autosport driver to become the first American-born Indianapolis 500 winner since Hornish did it that same year.
"We're going to come out swinging," Hunter-Reay said of next year's 97th Indianapolis 500. "We were on the front row this year and had a car issue sideline us while running in the top three or four. I have full belief we can come back and win the Indianapolis 500.
"Indy has always been my goal and that is something we are absolutely focused on achieving. We'll be back against next year and we'll be back fighting hard, trust me."
It was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011 that may have actually started Hunter-Reay's drive to the championship in 2012. He missed making the 33-driver starting lineup on Bump Day and was prepared to watch the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on the sidelines. At the time, team owner Michael Andretti called it the lowest point in his career but Andretti struck a deal with fellow team owner A.J. Foyt to put Hunter-Reay in a car that was already qualified by Bruno Junqueira.
Although the move was quite unpopular at the time because Junqueira had earned his way into the starting lineup it was not unprecedented. It wasn't the way Hunter-Reay wanted to get into the race but with big-time sponsors DHL and Sun-Drop supporting his effort at Andretti Autosport a business decision had to be made to satisfy the sponsors.
It also lit a fire under his crew at Andretti Autosport.
"That was certainly a low point for us; the point that was a kick in the pants," Hunter-Reay recalled. "That got us going to where we are today because we hit that low; we hit that bottom. Michael said to me at the time 'This will never happen again, we are going to win races. Enough of this.' We went out and did really well after Indy that year, won a race at New Hampshire and closed out the season among the best in points for the second half of the season.
"Going into 2012 we had that momentum and this year is a testament to how far we have come since 2011."
Hunter-Reay can celebrate a championship as the first driver from the United States to win the IZOD IndyCar Series title since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006.
"I'm honored to raise that American flag and bring the title back to America," Hunter-Reay said. "It's something I've always wanted to do, it's a dream come true and to hold that American flag up and bring the title back to the United States. It's something I've always wanted to do. It's a dream come true. To hold that American flag with the Astor Cup for the IndyCar title is magical to me.
"I feel a lot of patriotic pride because as a kid I grew up watching the American drivers and that is who I pulled for. I'm proud of my country it's an American series and to get a chance to raise the flag with a championship makes it very special.
"It's important. It's important to me. I'm very proud of my country. I always have been. I've always looked up to the American drivers when I first started this whole deal as a fan of the IndyCar Series, a genuine fan before I raced go‑karts I followed the American greats. That really appealed to me. Now here I am on the other side, and I see these kids that are looking up to us drivers. Man, it's so cool being on the other side of it all. I mean, to do this against the Ganassis, and the Penskes, and the talent in the series as even Dario and Will and all these guys have said. I feel like I'm up against the best in the world. It's just amazing to get it done. I'm running out of words to describe it."
Andretti was one of the greatest IndyCar drivers the United States ever produced and he feels the pride of what his team accomplished this season.
"I think it's great when an American beats the best in the world, and that's what happened," Andretti said. "That is what makes its mean something. If it was just All‑Americans out there, then it doesn't mean as much. But when an American can beat all these other great drivers from different countries, it's a great thing. So I'm very proud to be an American. I'm very proud of Ryan, so it's a good feeling."
By winning the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion Hunter-Reay delivered on Andretti's promise at Baltimore that "We're going to win this thing."
Consider that Hunter-Reay was in contention for the victory at the Raceway at Sonoma on August 26 when he was running third as the field lined up for a late-race restart. But as the field entered Turn 3, he was tagged from behind by Alex Tagliani, which led to a face-to-face confrontation on pit lane between the two drivers following the race. Instead of being just a few points behind Team Penske's Will Power the driver from Andretti Autosport would head to Baltimore 36 points out of the lead.
During qualifications for the Grand Prix of Baltimore Hunter-Reay couldn't advance out of the first round of qualifications and combined with Power winning the pole he was 37 points out of the lead with just two races remaining.
It looked grim for both Hunter-Reay and Andretti especially when Power was running away from the field in the early portion of the street race at Baltimore.
But that is when the key decision of the season not only helped Hunter-Reay win the race but go on to win the championship.
Hunter-Reay looks to come out swinging in 2013
By winning the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion Hunter-Reay delivered on Andrettis promise at Baltimore that Were going to win this thing.
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