We've seen this movie before, haven't not?
The plot is awfully familiar. There's the scrappy young open-wheel driver that has battled for rides throughout his career. And look, here's his opportunity to race a few times with a well-funded operation. Finally, the Hollywood ending: the full-time ride of his dreams that finally makes him a regular contender.
Last year, IZOD IndyCar Series fans saw this story play out as Will Power made the most of his part-time chance with Team Penske. Now he's the third full-time driver at Penske, the series championship leader, and one of the hottest drivers in all of motorsport right now.
But this season, American driver Ryan Hunter-Reay may be the star of this tale. After splitting a tumultuous 2009 between the currently defunct Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing, he managed to nail down a part-time run with Andretti Autosport, which headed into 2010 coming off its first winless season in Indy Racing League competition.
As of now, Hunter-Reay's IZOD-backed program is on until the June race at Texas Motor Speedway. However, with the way he's been driving for Michael Andretti's group, he could turn out to be the next Will Power. Hunter-Reay dominated Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, leading 64 of 85 laps en route to his second career IRL win and the first triumph for Andretti Autosport since Tony Kanaan won at Richmond International Raceway in 2008.
"Man, that was awesome," a jubilant Hunter-Reay said afterwards. "The car was so much fun to drive. That was some of the most fun I've had in a race car because it was handling so well."
The season-opening race last month at Sao Paulo, Brazil saw Hunter-Reay lose out to Power in an entertaining late-race duel. But on Sunday, the American capitalized on a miscue from his Australian rival. Coming out of Turn 11 on Lap 17, Power accidentally hit the pit speed limiter on his car and caused it to slow down. It was only for a brief moment, but by the time Power got back up to speed, Hunter-Reay had taken the lead. He was up front for the rest of the afternoon save for the pit stop cycles.
"This is unbelievable, to put it all together with all the IZOD people here this weekend," he said. "This is a race that means a lot to me. This is the 'Indy 500' of street courses. I've been watching this race since I was a little kid. To do it right now -- the timing is unreal. We've been working so hard on this IZOD car and on this team. To do it in our fourth race -- we feel like we're just getting started.
"This is a snowball that is just starting to roll."
It was a great way to cap off a huge weekend for his sponsor and the series itself. Last Thursday in Hollywood, IZOD put on a star-studded shindig that was streamed worldwide over the Internet and featured celebrities, live music, and a pit stop demonstration. The party found its way onto ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (with Mark Wahlberg and Sean "Diddy" Combs interviewed in an IndyCar two-seater) and defending series champion Dario Franchitti was also spotted on CBS' "The Late Late Show" leading up to the action in Long Beach.
With Hunter-Reay's victory, it's practically icing on the cake for all parties involved. Considering the fan base's current gripe with the lack of American drivers in IndyCar, it's obvious that a competitive RHR (as well as a competitive Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Graham Rahal, and Sarah Fisher) can be a major help to the series as it tries to increase its mainstream stature. But his good fortunes might also put enough pressure on IZOD to have the company back their poster boy all season long.
Then there would be more opportunities for him to create amazing stories like the one he wrote on Sunday -- winning at the track that he loved as a child, the track where he drove his first Champ Car race, the track where he first met his now-fiancée, and the track that was the favorite of his late mother.
Indeed, we have seen this movie before. But it's probably safe to say that fans would not mind if Will Power's Hollywood ending became Ryan Hunter-Reay's as well.
After all, a story such as this never gets old.