Hunter-Reay here for the long haul
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ryan Hunter-Reay picked a good day to finish first.
In a prestigious market and in front of some 90 guests from IndyCar Series and personal sponsor Izod, Hunter-Reay was the man to beat in Sunday's 36th-annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He easily held off Justin Wilson and pole winner Will Power for his second career IndyCar Series victory and the first for Andretti Autosport in nearly two years.
Hunter-Reay started 2010 with only three races guaranteed by team owner Michael Andretti and Izod. But by winning in what was already his fourth start of the season, the American made a strong statement that he deserves to be around for the full 17-race slate.
Andretti, who scored his first race win as the sole owner of what was formerly known as Andretti Green Racing, was in full agreement.
"If he keeps doing what he's been doing, he's going to make the decision a lot easier," Andretti said. "We can't let his car stop running, and I can assure you we're going to work very hard to make it happen. I'm hoping we'll be able to announce a full season sooner or later."
Hunter-Reay, 29, finished second in the IndyCar Series opener in Brazil and ranks third in the championship standings. He's the only driver to have won Indy car races sanctioned by CART, Champ Car and the Indy Racing League.
"That was the most fun I've ever had in a racing car," said Hunter-Reay, who maintains a residence in nearby Dana Point. "I'm just so appreciative for what Michael has done. This started out as a very small program, and he put the faith in me and where it can go.
"I feel like we're just getting to work. The chemistry in the team is so good, and I wake up a half an hour earlier than I should because I'm so excited to get to the racetrack to go to work."
Hunter-Reay's presence has seemed to rejuvenate the Andretti team, which broke a 28-race winless streak dating to June 2008. He replaced Hideki Mutoh, who moved to Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
Hunter-Reay took the lead at Long Beach on the 17th of 85 laps when Power's car locked in first gear for about three seconds on the Shoreline straight. The Australian's Verizon Wireless/Team Penske car lost positions to Hunter-Reay and Wilson.
Hunter-Reay pulled out a five-second gap in what was a very clean race until a crash triggered by Mario Romancini brought out the only full-course caution.
With two lapped cars as a buffer for the restart, Hunter-Reay easily controlled the pace to the finish and won by 5.603 seconds.
"Whether his car got stuck in first gear for a few seconds or not, this was our race," Hunter-Reay said. "We deserved it."
Andretti said, "I couldn't be more excited for this guy. He's worked his butt off, and he's just fit right into our team. He brings great chemistry and works really well with the other three drivers. They're all getting along really well, and he's pushing them real hard.
"It's so fun to watch it all happen as a team owner, and you're seeing the results on the track. Last week we dominated a race, and this week we dominated the race and won."
Wilson's challenge was blunted when he lost a front wing while trying to lap backmarker Alex Lloyd. The timing of the yellow worked out, and the Englishman was able to retain second place.
"It's frustrating, but I think it's great how we recovered, came back to get second place out of it," Wilson said. "Ryan has done a great job all weekend. He's been quick from the first lap we did on Friday, so congratulations for him. He's done the work; he got everything right. I thought I had a good car, so he definitely did a great job today.
"He's a professional, and he's doing a perfect job. Somebody has got to pick him up."
Power also provided a testimony of Hunter-Reay's abilities. "He's doing the job," Power said. "I was in a similar situation last year, just doing selected races. You've just got to do a good job every time you're in the car and not push past the limit and end up in the wall.
"He deserved to win today. He was very fast, and Andretti [Autopsort] have really picked up the pace, and they're right there now. Ryan deserves a full-time ride and I'm pretty sure he'll get one the way he's going."
Power maintained the IndyCar Series championship lead after the first quarter of the season made up of exclusively road races. The next five championship rounds (through June 20 at Iowa Speedway) will be staged on ovals.
"I'm still happy," Power said. "When things go wrong, you just keep your cool and make the best of a bad situation. To finish third was a very good result for us, and in fact we increased our lead over second place. These things happen in championships, and it was a good day in the points."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.