The off-season seemed especially long to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who struggled to find a ride for the 2009 season despite a victory on the Fourth of July weekend last year and an Izod personal services deal.
Finally, however, Vision Racing co-owner Tony George stepped in to offer the Watkins Glen racewinner a seat in the team's #21 car,. However, with only three days before the initial practice session on the St Petersburg street course for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix, no-one expected miracle.
Fortunately, Hunter-Reay was physically and mentally ready, and the dark grey Honda-powered Dallara prepped for the gruelling weekend. Starting 14th, team and driver made the most of an opportunity presented at a lap 33 pit-stop – which came just before a full-course caution – and remained in touch with the leaders.
"It's amazing how things work out,” Hunter-Reay admitted, “A lot of people came together to make this work and, yeah, it was a nail-biter for sure. But, in the end, the George family, everybody at Izod, Mike Kelly at Izod, Colin Dyne at William Rast and, really, the IndyCar Series - I have to thank them a lot for the marketing and commercial side of it.
“We've been working real hard on the business side of making this thing work out, and we threw it together in seven days. I met the team [on 29 March], but didn't sit in the car until Friday this weekend. I mean, on Friday afternoon, we were still cutting away at the seat and everything. It's just unreal. It really speaks volumes to the calibre of talent at Vision Racing and what this team is capable of.
“But this is what racing is about. This is why people love it, and this is why IndyCar is so great - because you can put something together in that amount of time and, if you get the right people together, you can challenge for a race win against teams that are spending $15m a year, $20m a year. It's a very neat thing, a very cool series.”
After overtaking Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson for second on lap 86 of 100, Hunter-Reay set his sights on Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, with two full-course caution periods in the final 14 laps bunching the field, but ultimately wasn't able to make a pass stick. Nevertheless, second place gave the fifth-year team its best finish - and promise heading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on 19 April.
"I can't thank this team enough," Hunter-Reay concluded, "What they've done in seven days, not even seven days, and we're sitting here in second place at St Pete. I felt like I wanted to try to take Ryan Briscoe at the end, but I was also thinking long-term, with points and everything else.
"Briscoe was certainly charging hard in the braking zone, [and] you couldn't take a foot off the line without really jeopardising your car. I kept it in there the whole time and finished well for the Vision team. We ran a good clean race."