Contrary to the belief that his recent test with HVM Racing would lead to him running a second car for Keith Wiggins' equipe
, Ryan Hunter-Reay has signed up to return to the IndyCar Series with Vision Racing instead.
The Watkins Glen racewinner - and 2007 IndyCar Series rookie of the year - will drive Vision's #21 Dallara-Honda, although identity of his backers remains to be seen. Sponsorship for the #21 machine is apparently 'still in the development stages', with Vision promising formal announcements after
the first race of the season, in St Petersburg, this weekend.Official IndyCar apparel sponsor IZOD will continue a personal sponsorship relationship with Hunter-Reay.
Already an open-wheel veteran, Hunter-Reay is the only driver to have won races under each of the CART, Champ Car and Indy Racing League banners, and his all-round ability is underlined by the fact that his three career wins have been earned on each of the different disciplines that IndyCar racing provides, with his road course win at Watkins Glen in 2008 - earned with Rahal Letterman racing - following an oval win at Milwaukee in 2004 and the street course at Surfer's Paradise in 2003.
"The accomplishments that Ryan has achieved in the short time that he's driven in the IndyCar Series speaks to the kind of talent and ability he possesses," team owner Tony George commented, "While the timing and circumstances surrounding Ryan's arrival at Vision Racing have been less the ideal given that we are just a few days from the season-opener at St Pete, the opportunity to welcome such a proficient driver and individual to the team was more than favourable.
"Rather than have him watching from the sidelines or driving against us, it only made sense to bring him into our operation for the 2009 season. With Ryan now joining Ed [Carpenter], we have a driver line-up that is more than capable of helping the team grow in its fifth season and capture the team's first victory."
The Vision deal marks the end of a winter of uncertainty for Hunter-Reay, who found his race-winning seat at Rahal Letterman disappear from underneath him as the team searched for sponsorship at the end of its deal with Ethanol. HVM tested him alongside EJ Viso in a private test at Sebring last week, but Vision swooped to offer the refugee a deal.
"From a competition standpoint, Vision Racing has what it takes to win races and that's what matters the most to me and the entire team," the driver noted, "I cannot say enough about Vision's level of professionalism or their determination to put a competitive car on the track at St Pete, despite the narrow timeframe."
"This is a huge opportunity on so many levels, and I am very grateful to Laura and Tony George for their confidence in me and making this a reality. Throughout the off-season, I have been working closely with Terry Angstadt's commercial and marketing staff at IndyCar and the great folks at IZOD, relentlessly attacking this thing from every angle; my sincere appreciation to all involved."
Hunter-Reay joins fellow American Ed Carpenter - George's nephew - in the Vision line-up, effectively replacing AJ Foyt IV, who became another victim of sponsorship decisions over the winter.
"I am really looking forward to working with Ed as a team-mate," RHR admitted, "Last season, he and the entire #20 team were very fast and a threat to win at quite a few tracks. St Petersburg will definitely be an acclimation period for us, but our expectations are very high. We are going to work really hard this season and I can't wait to get the job started."