Hunter-Reay named Indy 500 rookie of year after finishing sixth

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Hunter-Reay, the highest finisher in a talented class of 11 first-year drivers in the Indianapolis 500, was selected the race's rookie of the year Monday night.

The 27-year-old driver for Rahal Letterman Racing started 20th and finished sixth in Sunday's race, one spot better than Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh.

Hunter-Reay received a prize of $328,065 at the victory dinner Monday night, including a $25,000 bonus as the race's top rookie. He also was the IndyCar Series rookie of the year in 2007 after joining Rahal Letterman at midseason.

His sixth-place finish was his best so far this year, following seventh-place runs in the opener at Homestead, Fla., and last month in Japan.

"This is a great finish for us," said the Boca Raton, Fla., driver, who began racing go-carts in the 1990s and drove in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and Toyota Atlantic Series before joining the former Champ Car Series in 2003. "This year, I think, means a lot more to the [top] rookie, the Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year battle than in a bunch of years.

"Man, this is a great field to be on top of," he said.

The 11 rookies in the lineup were the most since 13 started the 1997 race, the year after the Indy Racing League was formed.

Mutoh, who took since-departed Dario Franchitti's spot with Andretti Green this season, was the runner-up in the IRL's developmental Indy Lights Series last year and was the fastest qualifier among the 11 rookies in the race. He earned $307,115 for his seventh-place finish.

Besides Hunter-Reay and Mutoh, the other first-year Indy drivers were Oriol Servia, who finished 11th; Will Power, 13th; Enrique Bernoldi, 15th; Mario Moraes, 18th; Alex Lloyd, 25th; E.J. Viso, 26th; Justin Wilson, 27th; Jaime Camara, 31st and Graham Rahal, 33rd.

The 19-year-old Rahal, son of team owner and former Indy winner Bobby Rahal, won his IRL debut at St. Petersburg, Fla., in April, becoming the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history. He and Wilson, Power and Servia were among the drivers who came into the IRL this season after the merger with Champ Car.

Rahal's $312,065 prize for finishing 33rd was almost seven times as much as his father won for finishing 11th in his rookie race in 1982.

Last year's rookie of the year was Phil Giebler, who was one of only two first-time starters and finished 29th. Milka Duno was the other rookie in the 2007 race and finished 31st. Previous rookies of the year included Marco Andretti, who was the runner-up in 2006, and Danica Patrick, who was fourth in 2005, when she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500.