Hunter-Reay at No. 250: Still among INDYCAR's elite

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On the verge of making his 250th Indy car start in Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport shared career perspectives with indycar.com's Phillip B. Wilson.

Wilson: Are you sentimental at all about 250, or is it merely a number and just means you’re getting older?

RHR: (Laughs.) I’m proud of the fact I’ve been here and been racing in the IndyCar Series for that long, for 250 starts. It’s what I love to do. It’s a way of life. And the fact that I’ve been able to do it this long is a blessing and a testament to how successful we’ve been. But really, it’s another number. It’s Gateway, and we’re trying to go out and win. Didn’t (Tony) Kanaan get to like 350 or something? So, I’m not old. (Laughs.)

Wilson: I don’t see any gray hairs.

RHR: Come on now, I’m only 38. Like I said, I feel blessed to have been able to do something I absolutely love. It’s been my passion and is my passion, my life. My way of going about life is Indy car. It’s always been my goal from the time I was 12 years old, from when I first sat in a go-kart, and now here we are 250 races in and I’m ready for another 200. What that number ends up being, I’m not sure, but we’ve still got a long way to go and I’m ready for it.”

Wilson: What do you remember most about your first Indy car start in 2003?

RHR: My first Indy car start was at St. Pete in CART and I just remember it was a bit surreal to begin the weekend, being in the big show and having the opportunity to race against the guys I had been watching like Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser. Jimmy Vasser was my teammate. I was racing against guys that I kind of idolized in my younger years.

ENTRY LIST: Bommarito Automotive Group 500

Wilson: When younger, did you think much about how long you would be doing this? Now that you’re older, not too old, do you think more about career longevity?

RHR: Certainly I have less races in front of me than I have behind me. But if you look at our competitiveness, just last year, I had 10 top-five finishes, which is more than I’ve ever had in my career, even when we won the championship (in 2012). Last year was a fantastic season for us, it ended really strong. Had we not had the four or five DNFs we had, we would have been right there in the fight for the championship at the end at Sonoma. We had a really, really strong season last year and we’re ready to strike at any moment now.

Wilson: Have you exceeded your career expectations or is that impossible because the bar is always set higher?

RHR: No, the bar is always set high. Your goals are always that you’re going to win an Indy car championship, you’re going to win the Indy 500. Certainly there’s no doubt I’ve ticked off the two biggest boxes that I ever set out to do, but once you get there, it’s almost like, ‘Yeah, I have to be part of the two-time 500 winners club or three-time 500 winners club or a double Indy car champion.’ The bar just keeps raising.

Wilson: Is there a race track that particularly suits your skills?

RHR: Milwaukee. (Laughs.) I love that place. Indianapolis, absolutely. My average finish when I finish there is under four. I have a great team here and have spent a lot of time with this team and we’ve had a lot of great race cars. We’ve won three times at Milwaukee. We’ve won three times at Iowa. So I really enjoy the short ovals. Milwaukee, it’s just how flat it is. It’s almost like a mix between a road course and an oval. There’s just nothing like it in the world. I desperately want to go back there.

Wilson: Favorite race? Obvious question?

RHR: Indy. There’s nothing like it. It comes down to driving the car hard, and handling, you have to be smart in how you go about it. As a driver, experience really pays off there.

Wilson: And winning the Indy 500 in 2014 qualifies as your best individual race?

RHR: Absolutely, 100 percent.

Wilson: You’re in a last-lap shootout, side-by-side as close as two cars can be, who do you want that other driver to be?

RHR: Helio (Castroneves) and I did it, best finish in Indy 500 history if you ask me. Really, I think it was. There was a sudden death, right? Seven laps to go after a red flag? What more could you ask for? We passed each other almost twice a lap for seven laps. It was insane racing.

Wilson: Which driver have you enjoyed racing against the most?

RHR: I can’t say one or another.

Wilson: I wondered if that would be tough. When you race against someone like (Scott) Dixon, you know who he is and what he brings. Now you’ve got a teammate (Alexander Rossi) who is pretty darned good.

RHR: I always enjoy racing against Dixon. It’s always clean and it’s really hard racing. There’s too many good guys in this series to say one or the other, but Dixon would be the one if I had to pick anyone.

Wilson: Most memorable or amusing Michael Andretti story?

RHR: He’s made some really good strategy calls for me. It’s not amusing, but it was key to our championship season. In Baltimore in 2012, the tire strategy, not coming in for rain tires when it was raining, staying on slicks. Big gambles. But he was also the one to really push the decision to come in for tires at Iowa when we blitzed the field. We blitzed through the field to win it from eighth or ninth or something like that. He does a great job with strategy. He’s got the big picture in mind.

Wilson: What’s the most important thing Ryan Hunter-Reay has learned in racing?

RHR: Never be complacent and to always push yourself to develop and evolve as a driver.

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HUNTER-REAY IN INDYCAR:

First race: 2003 St. Petersburg (finished 16th for Johansson Motorsports)

First win: 2003 Surfers Paradise (his 18th race, driving for Johansson Motorsports)

Biggest win: 2014 Indianapolis 500

Total wins: 18 (ranks 26th all-time)

Total starts: 250 (ranks 15th all-time)

Season Championships: 2012

The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will be held the evening of Saturday, Aug. 24, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Television coverage will begin on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET with the green flag set for approximately 8:30 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 209, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).

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