I Am Next!

ryan-hunter-reayRyan Hunter-Reay is not a fresh new face when it comes to American open wheel racing.  Representing the small pool of US talent in the IndyCar series for the last couple seasons, Ryan has managed to attract some major personal sponsorship through IZOD, who are planning on using his likeness in an advertising campaign and IndyCar clothing line to be launched in conjunction with this years installment of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  However, there is a small snag.  He currently isn’t signed for a 2009 race seat.

He worked his way up the Champ Car ladder series through karting, Barber Formula Dodge, Barber Dodge Pro Series and Toyota Atlantics.  In 2003, he started a 3 year stint in the Champ Car World Series which netted him wins at Surfers Paradise and the Milwuakee Mile and a best 9th in the championship in 2004.  In 2005 he was released from Rocketsports Racing with 2 races left to go while he was outperformed by his teammate, current Toyota F1 driver Timo Glock.

Ryan got a chance to run for Bobby Rahal for the remainder of the 2007 season, replacing an underperforming Jeff Simmons in the ethanol sponsored car.  Ryan managed to attract the personal sponsorship of IZOD along with a billboard in Times Square which proclaimed “I am Next!”  Shortly after the billboard was placed, Ryan won the 2008 IndyCar race at Watkins Glen, prompting some minor changes to the billboard to “I AM NOW!”

This should have all been leading up to Bobby Rahal’s resurgence as an IndyCar team owner, headlined by a marketable talented young American driver who was not saddled with the baggage of living up to a legendary last name or fighting the women’s lib battle on the cover of SI.  But then, reality set in and the US ethanol consortium, EPIC, disolved and reorganized as a lobbying firm in Washington.  At present, Bobby Rahal has not found a new primary sponsor and Ryan has been informed that he should look elsewhere for a seat.

So, where does this leave IZOD?  Robin Miller reports that IZOD is very concerned that Ryan get a race seat, since they are weeks away from unleashing a virtual marketing maelstorm, the likes of which Tony George has only dreamed of since theIRL’s  inaugural race at the Mickyard.  So, here’s where the rumors come in.

Curt Cavin at the Indy Star and Trackside Online have both been reporting that Ryan may have something going on with HVM.  Ryan has been seen at HVM’s facilities and also in their pits at the Homestead open test at the end of February.  I can not express how excited I would be to have Hunter-Reay teamed up with the ever controversial EJ Viso at the former Minardi Team USA.

Miller also points out the possibility that Ryan could end up as a funded driver at Tony George’s Vision Racing or even KV.  I would discount Vision at this point, because it does the series little good to have a heavily marketed driver racing for Tony’s team instead of for a Rahal or an HVM.  KV seems to be an educated stretch of Robin’s immagination as Vasser’s squad has been trying to get together a deal for either Servia or everybody’s favorite chrome horn warrior, Paul Tracy.  But on a recent interview on “Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee”, Jimmy Vasser seemed to indicate that they may be looking at other possibilities, but that most likely, they wouldn’t add a second car until Indy.  That seems to take KV out of the running as IZOD sounds like they want to start this campaign before May.

I would take it to the bank that Ryan will end up driving somewhere in 2009, most likely at HVM.  The IndyCar series simply can’t afford to not have him in a seat this season.

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