Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, two of the top American drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, were unsure two weeks ago of their respective statuses for this weekend's Iowa Corn Indy 250 at the Iowa Speedway.
Rahal competed in three races for Sarah Fisher Racing to start the season, and the Indianapolis 500 for his father's team, Rahal Letterman Racing, but neither he nor his father Bobby had the funding to go on afterwards. This was a far cry from last season's run with the former Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, where the young Rahal finished seventh in points with the lucrative (but since dissolved) McDonald's sponsorship. This year, he ranks 23rd after missing the events at Sao Paulo, Kansas, and Texas.
Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, was on his own after exhausting the funding allotted to him by his personal sponsor (and primary series backer) IZOD and Andretti Autosport. IZOD made the difficult decision to funnel the majority of its $10 million commitment into the IndyCar Series as a whole instead of a single driver, and the partnership has already begun to pay off. Unfortunately, it meant that Hunter-Reay would have to earn his way to stay in the series past the June 6 Firestone 550k; he put himself sixth in points and won the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Their perseverance has paid off in both cases, as both drivers will be racing this weekend, at the very least. Rahal takes over the No. 24 Dad's Root Beer Dallara-Honda for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, while Hunter-Reay continues in the No. 37 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda with sponsorship from the United States ethanol industry.
Rahal benefits from the back and leg injuries to Mike Conway, sustained in a wreck with Hunter-Reay in the Indianapolis 500. Conway will miss three months due to the incident, which tore away parts of the catch fence and sprayed the track with debris. His Iowa paint scheme was custom designed by Hot Wheels, the official IndyCar die-cast manufacturer, and includes flames down the sides.
Hunter-Reay will continue a relationship with the Ethanol brand that he maintained from mid-2007 to 2008. He only competed in six events in the No. 17 Ethanol Dallara-Honda in 2007 for Rahal Letterman Racing, but his finishes were good enough to secure him series Rookie of the Year anyway. In 2008, he finished eighth in points, with his first career win at Watkins Glen the biggest highlight. It was this year, in fact, that Hunter-Reay signed his personal services contract with Izod.
After the 2008 season, however, IndyCar switched to Brazilian ethanol in a partnership with ApexBrasil. As such, the American ethanol sponsorship dollars dried up, and Hunter-Reay has been on a constant search for full-time backing ever since.
Hunter-Reay and Rahal then have two weeks to figure out their plans for the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen. The race, broadcast on ABC, is one of the series' biggest television draws, and both drivers (especially Hunter-Reay, as a former winner only two years removed) will be looking to parlay strong finishes at Iowa into Glen deals.