Hunter-Reay crash caps tough GP of Indy quals for Andretti Autosport

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Luck clearly was not on Andretti Autosport’s side today in a rain-soaked qualifying session for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In hindsight, that became obvious early when all five Andretti drivers – full-timers Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, plus one-off Franck Montagny – were listed as part of the first group of qualifiers. Only two of them, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, advanced to the second round.

Then, Hinchcliffe was unable to get into the Firestone Fast Six, leaving Hunter-Reay as the sole Andretti competitor to battle for the pole. For a moment, it looked as if it would turn out alright as Hunter-Reay leaped to P1 with just a couple of minutes left.

But shortly after doing that, Hunter-Reay lost control of his No. 28 DHL Honda coming out of Turn 14, spun out, and had a long slide into the front-stretch wall.

Luckily, Hunter-Reay hopped out of the car intact. Unluckily, his crash brought out the red flag, which cost him his two quickest laps in the Fast Six per IndyCar rules and gave the pole to KV Racing Technology’s Sebastian Saavedra.

“In the wet, you have to go for it,” said Hunter-Reay, who officially qualified third after having his best laps scratched. “We did a good enough time for P1. There’s a very fine line before you step over it. It’s just part of the game.

“I dinged up the right rear there. The most work is going to be done with the exhaust and things like that. It was just one whack. I had some time to head backwards for a while. It wasn’t a hard hit. The standing water was a pretty big issue.”

But at least Hunter-Reay will still be starting toward the front in tomorrow’s 82-lap race around the revamped, 2.4-mile road course at IMS.

The rest of his teammates will have to climb from mid-pack. Hinchcliffe qualified 11th, followed by Andretti in 13th, rookie Munoz in 19th, and Montagny in 21st.

Andretti’s best lap in Group 1 was less than one one-hundredth of a second off of sixth place, which would have gotten him into the second round of qualifying.

“I think it was a team decision to go out because we were worried about the weather,” he said after that excruciatingly close call.

“We plateaued too early and the car got better at the end, so we’re sitting on the outside looking in on this hundredth of a second…I’m losing sleep over this.”

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”