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Hunter-Reay extends contract with Andretti

15 September 2012

Ryan Hunter-Reay has signed a multi-year contact extension to his contract with Andretti Autosport, with the team confirming the deal ahead of this weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

A team source revealed to The Associated Press on Friday that the deal was done, and on Saturday the team issued a statement making the two-year extension to Hunter-Reay's official.

"We are happy to have Ryan back with us for the 2013 and 2014 IndyCar seasons," said the team's president, chairman and chief executive officer Michael Andretti. "He is a tough competitor and has become an important part of our team."

Hunter-Reay has been with the team since 2010 and finished in seventh place in the championship for two consecutive seasons, but this year goes into the final race as the only man who can prevent Team Penske's Will Power from clinching the 2012 title.

"Today we are focused on leaving Fontana tonight with a championship," Hunter-Reay said. "I'm happy to be able to enjoy the off season knowing what the next two years hold."

It had been rumoured over the past few weeks that Roger Penske, the owner of Team Penske, had been making a serious effort to sign the 31-year-old Texas-born driver to his own squad, but in the end Hunter-Reay opted to stay where he felt he belonged.

"I have a lot of deep rooted relationships with the team and the team sponsors and I'm looking forward to continuing and further developing those relationships," he said. "I'm looking forward to my return with Andretti Autosport and hope to have the opportunity to speak more on it soon."

Hunter-Reay's career in the series has been up-and down over the years, and before he moved to Andretti after stints at Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2008 and AJ Foyt and the now-defunct Vision Racing in 2009 it looked as though Hunter-Reay was adrift and might not get a proper chance of achieving success in IndyCar.

Even once he moved to Andretti Autosport it has not been all plain sailing: the team had a slump in 2011 which included the ignominious failure of the squad to qualify Hunter-Reay onto the grid of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Ultimately, in order to appease team sponsors, Andretti bought Hunter-Reay a seat with AJ Foyt Racing at the expense of Bruno Junquiera who had already managed to qualify the car for the race. It was an embarrassing low point for all concerned.

This year, with the team line-up of Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti gelling from the start, Hunter-Reay's season began with road course podium finishes at St Petersburg and Sao Paulo, and then a blazing mid-season streak of three consecutive race wins at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto.

Despite those victories, poor outings at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma had appeared to have put an end to his hopes of making a run at the championship, until he pulled off his second road course win of the year at Baltimore two weeks ago to set up a season finale title decider at Fontana this weekend.

Michael Andretti emphasised the importance of the team dynamic and the close partnership between his three drivers in particular.

"[Ryan] is the ultimate team player and I know we can count on him, along with his teammates, to continue to be a foundation for us," said Andretti. "We believe that he, Marco and James will continue to work together and take the team to great places with great success."

"Hinchcliffe coming here just moulded the team back together with his lively spirit and everything like that," added Andretti Autosport general manager Kyle Moyer. "It's really made it fun.

"The climate within the Andretti team in 2010 and 2011 was plain to see during a walk down pit lane, and it wasn't one that looked happy or inviting," Moyer told US cable channel SPEED. "That same stroll through the Andretti pits today is a much different experience: you'll find a lot more smiles, laughs and the general weight that stifled the team is nowhere to be found."

Moyer compared the 2012 line-up to the famous "brotherhood" that formed almost a decade ago when Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon were all at the team.

Andretti Autosport clearly believes Hunter-Reay is a vital part of recreating that chemistry and former success, and has no intention of breaking up the band any time soon. This weekend, they've put their money on the table and signed the deal - leaving Roger Penske with some interesting off-season thinking to do about his own line-up at Team Penske.

How that goes will likely depend on whether Penske or Andretti end up going into 2013 with the reigning champion on their books: Will Power, or Ryan Hunter Reay?


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