Gordon Kirby

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Right man for the job

The feeling in the media centre after this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500 was that the right driver and team won the race. Ryan Hunter-Reay dominated the second half of this year’s fiercely competitive 500 aboard one of five Honda-powered Andretti Autosport entries. By winning a heated duel with Helio Castroneves and team-mate Marco Andretti, the 2012 IndyCar champion cast himself as favourite to win this year’s championship.

Hunter-Reay has been racing Indycars for a dozen years. He won races in Champ Car in 2003 and ’04 and scored his first IRL win with Bobby Rahal’s team at Watkins Glen in 2008. He joined Michael Andretti in 2010 and quickly established himself as the team’s number one, winning at Long Beach that year before taking the 2012 IndyCar championship.

Hunter-Reay was very competitive at Indianapolis the last two years, but was foiled in both races. He started back on the seventh row this year and took great pleasure from the opening 150 laps of the 500 run without a yellow. “The pace was just amazing, staying green for that long,” he said. “I was thrilled with our car’s pace, just picking my way through. The leaders kept getting closer and closer. It was fun. You get into a racing rhythm. And trying to maximise the ‘in’ and ‘out’ laps from the pit lane is fun. I loved it staying green that long.”

Ryan emphasised the clean and respectful nature of his battles with Castroneves and Marco Andretti. “Racing Helio and Marco, I knew there was going to be no funny business. We were going to race each other hard, take our line and stick to it. There wasn’t going to be an unexpected move at the wrong time or something sketchy.

“Marco and I went close one time going into Turn Three. We respect each other a lot on the track. It was good, close racing, but all fair. The competition in the IndyCar series is ridiculously close. It’s probably the toughest it’s ever been, the closest that it’s ever been.”

Hunter-Reay said his team owner gave him every encouragement in the closing laps. “Michael just said, ‘Go win it. You’ve got the best car, you’re the best driver out there. Go win it.’. My engineer said the same thing. He said, ‘We’ve got the tools to do it. Let’s go make it happen’.”

Michael Andretti complimented his team on an excellent month of May and saluted Honda for producing a very powerful engine for this year’s 500. “It was amazing to look at the scoring pylon at the end and see four of our cars in the top six,” he said. “We have a great team and we were really well prepared. I’m so proud of the whole company and Ryan and his guys, but the one that really stands out is Honda. You think where it was last year and it came back strong with a great engine all month. It really turned things around.”

Hunter-Reay said he believed Andretti’s cars were the class of the field at Indianapolis.

“I knew last night, before going to bed, that I’d have to battle one of my team-mates to get this thing,” he said. “For sure, we probably had the strongest cars out there.”

Michael offered full-throated praise for Hunter-Reay’s mastery of IndyCar racing. “When we looked at Ryan,” he said, “one of the reasons we wanted him in our family was because this series requires very diverse drivers. You have to be able to race on different types of track, including Indianapolis. That’s one of the reasons we went after him.

“He’s everything we ever hoped for and we’ve had a great relationship. We’re very close and we’re so happy to have him as part of our outfit.

“Hopefully, he’ll remain part of our family until he retires.”

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