Prior to Ryan Hunter-Reay's emotional victory in last weekend's Lexmark Indy 300, Andre Ribeiro's win for Tasman Motorsports at the New Hampshire International Speedway was the last CART victory for a start-up team in its rookie season.

It's been 17 years since an American Rookie won a Champ Car race. John Paul Jr. won the 1983 Michigan 500, at the time Ryan Hunter-Reay was just four years old, a little boy in Florida with big dreams.

American Spirit Team Johansson changed the history books Sunday, and Hunter Reay's dream came true. The young American won his first Champ Car race at the Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia, and American Spirit earned a double podium with their victory and Jimmy Vasser's impressive drive from 15th to third.

The 22 year-old resident of Boca Raton, Florida powered his #31 American Spirit Reynard-Ford to victory with a 1.547 sec. margin of victory over fellow rookie Darren Manning and teammate Vasser.

Hunter-Reay is a product of the CART ladder system and has won at every step along the way. He is the first Champ Car driver to have graduated from each of the series in the ladder system, proving the system is a successful stepping-stone for future American stars.

"I've kept my eye on Ryan as he progressed through the ladder system, it was very clear that he is a special talent," said team owner Stefan Johansson. "The Champ Cars offer a steep learning curve and Ryan has developed and adapted extremely well. Mid-Ohio is known as a difficult road circuit and Surfers is notorious for its tight chicanes and high-speed straights yet that is where his best results have come. I think it's a true testament to his skill, he has a very successful future ahead of him."

The American duo of Vasser and Hunter-Reay battled treacherous weather conditions en-route to their podium celebration, the race was red-flagged after 13 laps due to ping-pong ball sized hail. Race strategy played an important role in the team's results, putting the drivers into first and second for the start of the final stint of the race, despite several full course cautions due to the ever-changing and very difficult track conditions.

Johansson praised his athletes skill and performance, "Ryan and Jimmy kept it together those last 14 laps, they kept it cool in trying race conditions, I am so proud of both of them. The team gave them great stops, it is difficult for everyone to stop a race and keep focused for the re-start, yet everyone performed perfectly, and it was truly a great team effort."

Just ten months old, American Spirit Team Johansson was formed on January 2nd of this year. A late start with very little testing, yet the team scored their first podium mid-season when Hunter-Reay finished third at Mid-Ohio, and two more this past weekend. A victory for the first-year team should be no surprise; Johansson's efforts have been rewarded with a victory every year as a team owner in different formulas of racing.

"We proved this weekend that perseverance pay's off," said Johansson, "we plan to carry this momentum into next year, work hard on and off the track over the winter and be a lot stronger, one step ahead rather than behind, so that we can hit the road running when the season gets started in 2004."



Loading Comments...