Andretti Autosport comes up empty after dominant month of May

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They were the dominant team of this year’s month of May in Indianapolis. And yet, somehow, it all ended so empty for Andretti Autosport.

Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz repeated his heroics of qualifying as he finished second after starting there. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finished just behind in third and fourth, but were out of position and firmly “in the wrong place at the wrong time” toward the end of the race. E.J. Viso had his best 500 appearance but ended only 18th after a pit stop stall, while James Hinchcliffe was the team’s only non-factor, with a near spin off Turn 2 and a disappointing 21st place result.

All five drivers combined to lead the race for a total of 81 laps (Andretti 31, Hunter-Reay 26, Munoz 12, Hinchcliffe 7 and Viso 5). But it was where Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Andretti were all stationed for the thrilling climax of the race that ultimately proved their demise.

On lap 197, Hunter-Reay restarted first ahead of eventual race winner Tony Kanaan, with Munoz third and Andretti fourth. Hunter-Reay was a sitting duck on the restart and Kanaan blew past, with Munoz following suit shortly thereafter.

“We were leading and the rest is history,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer.  Everybody came on by. I’m actually happy we got third.  I figured with that restart, being first, we would have been shuffled back to fourth or so.”

Given the way the race had transpired, with lead changes happening nearly every lap, if not more than once during a lap, Hunter-Reay had reason to feel aggrieved.

He led 13 times for 26 laps and had it not been for the final caution when Dario Franchitti crashed, Hunter-Reay could have repassed Kanaan to take the lead back. All that said, Hunter-Reay was fine with the race ending under yellow, given the tradition of just 200 laps and 500 miles for Indianapolis.

“This is Indy, there’s a certain way things are done.  If tradition is tradition, we don’t materialize results, we don’t try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds.  It can be a bit gimmicky.”

Munoz, who ended best of all five drivers, was the month’s revelation. Showing the sign and grit of determination, he was actually disappointed with second – ironic given he didn’t mind ending fourth on Friday in the dramatic conclusion to the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100!

“I really wanted to fight for the win, maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight,” Munoz said. “Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk. Right now, I’m thirsty.”

Andretti, once again, seemed the presumptive favorite heading into Sunday. And once again, he came up short. A positive takeaway is that he now leads the points by 11 over Takuma Sato, but it was small consolation.

“It was unfortunate as I fell to the back late. It’s very frustrating,” he admitted to ABC post-race. “But if anyone deserves a win it’s him (Kanaan).”

Viso was another who had a shot but a stall on a lap 154 pit stop cost him any chance. Hinchcliffe’s dirt-tracking escapades around the halfway mark, where he caught the car on exit of Turn 2, was symptomatic of a rare day where his usually stellar GoDaddy crew just missed the setup.

The positive is that Michael Andretti’s team could afford to be disappointed with three of its cars in the top five. Of course, at Indy, winning is really the only thing that matters.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.