Ryan Hunter-Reay drove an excellent race on Sunday to score his first Indy 500 win. Hunter-Reay had a tough time in qualifying and started deep in the field down in 19th but he made rapid ground in the race’s early laps and was into the top 10 by lap 12.
Helped by rapid pit work Ryan took the lead for the first time at half-distance and thereafter he was the man to beat as he led 56 of the last 100 laps and out-duelled Hélio Castroneves after an exciting wheel-to-wheel battle over the final half-dozen laps.
Hunter-Reay and Castroneves passed each other four times in the closing laps with Hunter-Reay making a superb outside pass going into the first turn on the second-last lap. Castroneves tucked into Hunter-Reay’s slipstream and tried to draft past as they shot down the front straight on the final lap towards the chequered flag. The Brazilian pulled almost even with Hunter-Reay as they passed beneath the flag but fell less than a car length short as Ryan won by 0.06 of a second, the second closest finish in Indy 500 history.
“When Hélio got by me, I thought that might have been it,” Hunter-Reay remarked. “But we started running well out of [turn] two and four and it was going to be the long way around. I came back down and cut a little grass for IMS, but we made it happen.
“I was going with instinct mostly. There’s an aspect of just going for it because it’s the Indy 500. Second doesn’t really count. In my head, I was going for it. I was going to try and make it happen. Maybe I was going to be pushed off in turn three and go into the wall. I was going to be in the grey and do anything I could to win this race. Luckily, that was enough to make it happen and we held off some really strong cars.
“We made the pass with two to go, which dropped Hélio back a bit. We really fought into the corner which made him lose a bit of momentum. But on the last lap I was worried that he would be able to come out and draft up and pass me, just like Hornish did to Marco in 2006. That was playing on my mind.
“I had to be aggressive and come off turn four low so that Hélio couldn’t draft as well. I think that was the difference. Had I come off high he would have been right in my slipstream and probably would have gone by. This race was ridiculously close and competitive. I’m just glad I picked the right time to go.”
Indy 500 top 10
1. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda
2. Hélio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy
3. Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda
4. Carlos Muñoz, Andretti-Honda
5. Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy
6. Kurt Busch, Andretti-Honda
7. Sébastien Bourdais, KV-Chevy
8. Will Power, Penske-Chevy
9. Sage Karam, D&R-Chevy
10. JR Hildebrand, Carpenter-Chevy
Hunter-Reay has been racing Indycars for a dozen years, first in Champ Car, then the IRL and IndyCar. 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 ‘08. Ryan joined Michael Andretti’s team in 2010 and quickly established himself as the team’s number one driver, winning at Long Beach that year before taking the 2012 IndyCar championship.
“I remember going back to 2010 and having a one shot deal to drive for Michael,” Hunter-Reay observed. “I said this is an opportunity of a life time. I was bouncing from team to team and I had to make it happen in a short amount of time. They were very pressure-packed circumstances.
“We won our second race together at Long Beach and it’s just a fantastic story. You can’t do it alone. You need a team behind you, but you also need people that believe in you when the days don’t go right and Michael is that guy. I’ve got to thank him for making my IndyCar career a possibility.”
Hunter-Reay led much of last year’s Indy 500 before being beaten by Tony Kanaan on the final restart. This year, Hunter-Reay has been the man to beat in IndyCar, leading until making a mistake at Long Beach and winning at Barber Motorsports Park. Qualifying at Indianapolis didn’t go well but Ryan was convinced he had a good car for race day conditions and made his mark as soon as the race started.
“We had a great car in traffic all month,” Hunter-Reay said, “especially in the last practice, ‘Carb Day’. We made a couple of changes before the race because we were starting so far back in the pack. We had a really good start, settled in, and from there picked them off one by one.
“We made the right adjustments throughout the race. To win this race, you have to do everything perfect, and the guys did perfect changes on the car. Every time, it was just what I needed. That’s what it takes to win the Indy 500.”
Michael Andretti added that Honda’s engines were a key to Hunter-Reay’s victory. “We unloaded pretty good, just like we did last year,” Michael said. “The big question was, how was Honda going to stack up against Chevrolet? And when we unloaded we saw that Honda came here with a great engine. I felt really confident because we had really good race cars and a team that was really ready and prepared to do battle.”
Hunter-Reay is the first American to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish won for Penske in 2006. Ryan has also taken IndyCar’s points lead from Will Power who had a disappointing race at Indianapolis. Power led a handful of early laps before falling back to finish eighth.
This was Michael Andretti’s third Indy 500 win as a team owner, the others coming in ‘05 with Dan Wheldon and ’07 with Dario Franchitti. Andretti’s team had four cars in the top six with Marco Andretti finishing third, Carlos Muñoz taking fourth and NASCAR star Kurt Busch turning in an impressive performance to take sixth in his rookie start at Indianapolis.
Team Penske finished second with Castroneves, fifth with Juan Pablo Montoya and eighth with Power. Montoya drove a smart race, getting better fuel mileage than anyone else so that he was in a position to win until his strategy was ruined by a rare red flag occurring late in the race after Townsend Bell crashed heavily. Another noteworthy performance came from 19-year old Indy Lights graduate Sage Karam who ran with the leaders all the way and finished an excellent ninth.