Ryan Hunter-Reay drives the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara Chevrolet… (Robert Laberge / Getty Images )
Ryan Hunter-Reay opens his defense of the IndyCar championship Sunday with the series season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Honda Grand Prix on a 1.8-mile street course in St. Petersburg is the first of 19 races on the Izod IndyCar Series calendar.
The series then moves to the Barber Motorsports Park road course in Birmingham, Ala., on April 7, followed by the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach that's held on the city's seaside streets April 21.
Hunter-Reay, who drives for the Andretti Autosport team, won the series title in dramatic fashion in Southern California in September at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Australian Will Power, the Team Penske driver who had arrived in Fontana with the points lead, crashed early in the race to open the door for Hunter-Reay to capture the championship.
Hunter-Reay said repeating as champion won't be easy against such rivals as Power and Power's teammate Helio Castroneves, along with four-time champion Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon at Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
"This is going to be the tighest competition we've seen in IndyCar in a very, very long time," Hunter-Reay said. "It's going to be a really tough season."
IndyCar's crown-jewel race, the Indianapolis 500, is May 26.
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