TORONTO — Ryan Hunter-Reay’s bio page may say he’s a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but the IZOD IndyCar Series driver is a Canadian at heart.
Hunter-Reay’s late mother Lydia was from Hamilton, Ont., and he spent many summers and holidays north of the border instead of lying around the beaches of sunny South Florida.
Racing in this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto feels like a homecoming for the 32-year-old Andretti Autosport driver.
“When it comes down to it, I am half Canadian,” Hunter-Reay told sportsnet.ca. “My aunt and uncle still live here and I love coming here. This race in Toronto is one of the best.”
Toronto also brings out the best in Hunter-Reay. When he was driving here in the minor league Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2001, a daring pass at the usually dangerous turn three saw the then 20-year-old grab the lead in the race. Hunter-Reay held on and won for just his second victory in the series.
"That was one of my first really big races," Hunter-Reay recalled. "That was a big moment when I won that one with family here. It was a special time for me so it's nothing but great memories.
"I'm proud to be a winner here in Barber Dodge and IndyCar."
Team owner Michael Andretti won a record seven times in Toronto and since joining Andretti Autosport three years ago, Hunter-Reay hasn't missed the podium in T.O. He finished third in 2010 and 2011 before capturing the checkered flags in 2012.
That victory also capped a three-race win streak for Hunter-Reay that vaulted him to the top of the charts en route to his first IZOD IndyCar Series championship. Hunter-Reay now returns to Toronto not only as the defending race winner but once again sitting second in the standings with a shot at reclaiming the top spot in the series. Teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe aren't far behind either in third and fifth places, respectively.
"This team has done an incredible job, it's great to be a part of it," Hunter-Reay said. "The team is really coming together … and the crew has been phenomenal."
But the confidence knowing he can win here also brings the added pressure that anything less would be a disappointment.
"Toronto is a challenging track," Hunter-Reay said. "It's fast, bumpy and there's a lot of wheel-to-wheel action and sometimes contact."
Hunter-Reay went on a tear starting at the Indianapolis 500 in May and finished on the podium in five of the following six races.
He had a chance to keep the hot streak alive at last Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 400 until a routine pit stop was anything but. Takuma Sato drove into Hunter-Reay's car from behind, knocking them both out of contention. Hunter-Reay's crew got his car back onto the track but it was too late to make up the lost time and he had to settle for 20th place.
Hunter-Reay injured a thumb in the incident but said he's ready to race although he admitted the digit had "seen been days."
This week also saw a massive rainfall hit the Toronto area that flooded parts of the city, including Lake Shore Boulevard where Saturday and Sunday's races will be held. Hunter-Reay was surprised by the flooding but doesn't have to worry about ditching his racecar for his boat anytime soon.
"I was pretty shocked to see the pictures earlier in the week and seeing people walking along our straightaway (on Lake Shore) with water up to their waist," Hunter-Reay said. "Certainly our thoughts are with the folks affected by it and hopefully everyone is out of harm's way now.
"The weather looks great. I was out on the track today and it looks like it hasn't rained here in weeks."