Hunter-Reay’s title defense begins with same group

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Defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has had a busy offseason, but now only a few weeks out from the season opener in St. Petersburg, will be back to his day job.

The entire team for his championship-winning No. 28 DHL/Sun Drop Dallara-Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport is back in place this year. The only change is a shift from the No. 28 to the champion’s No. 1.

“100% of the 28 car is still together,” he told me at a press event for the Milwaukee IndyFest earlier this year. “We have some more engineering changes. But I’m excited – if you stay still and not progress, you get left behind.”

The difference this year to last in terms of the Dallara DW12 is a year’s worth of data, experience and racing with the car, which entered the 2012 season opener as an untested product.

“We’ve brought some things full circle this year,” he said. “There’s been a lot of time to work on the DW12. On race weekends you’re stabbing at car setup, but you develop over a season. We were testing against what we had. Now we understand where we want to start.”

Hunter-Reay raced in an SRT Viper last October in Road Atlanta, and will race in a Level 5 Motorsports HPD prototype at this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16. He also competed in the Race of Champions in Bangkok at the end of last year, representing Team USA.

More importantly on the personal side, he and wife Beccy welcomed their first child, son Ryden born December 28. The 28 is a special number for Hunter-Reay, as it represents 28 million people fighting cancer. Hunter-Reay is a Livestrong ambassador.