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Hunter-Reay achieves Indy 500 dream

"It's a dream come true man, I can't even believe it" - 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay hadn't been one of the favourites to win the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, after a disappointing qualifying left him starting from 19th place on the grid, but there was a certain sense of destiny about the way he made his way inexorably forward to became a contender at the front.

Hunter-Reay was one of the drivers who was quickly on the move forward during the caution-free first half of the race, and when the midway point was reached Hunter-Reay took the lead almost as if pre-arranged.

"We made a couple changes before the race because we were starting so far back in the pack. We had a really good start, settled in, from there picked them off one by one. Made the right adjustments throughout the race," he said.

Hunter-Reay went on to lead for a total of 56 laps, but when the cautions started flying in the final quarter he started to wonder whether he hadn't set himself up as a sitting duck at the head of the field.

"You don't want to be the leader on a yellow," he said. "Please go green. Let's go green the rest of this thing. I was looking forward to that. We had a great race car." But instead, not only did another caution come out with ten laps remaining, the race was put under a red flag.

"It went yellow, and then red" he recalled. "We were sitting in pit lane, had time to think about everything. Here I am the leader again. Did my best not to do what we did last year, which is lead at the wrong time."

"I told him it was a good omen because last time we sat under a red flag we won the championship," chipped in team owner Michael Andretti, who was nonetheless battling his own fears at the time. "It was a tough one. I was thinking, Here we go. It's the first time it's happened in 98 years. Now because it's the first time it happened in 98 years, it's going to work out wrong for us. I was a little disappointed at that point."

When the race restarted, Helio Castroneves did indeed manage to get an early jump to the lead and for a moment Hunter-Reay feared that the decisive moment had come and gone - and that the race win had slipped through his fingers.

"When Helio got by me, I thought that might have been it," he admitted. "We made the pass with two to go, which dropped Helio 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.

"I had to be aggressive, come off of turn four low so that Helio couldn't draft up as well. I think that was the difference. Had I come off high, he'd have been right in my slipstream, probably would have gone by," he added.

"I think that was the move that won the race," offered Andretti. "I think that caught Helio completely off guard and threw off his plan for the rest of the race. I think that was the move that did it."

"There was no practice for it," continued Hunter-Reay. "We never really ran those lines at all the whole month and that was all new. Everything everybody was doing at the end was all new. I didn't know if we had what it took but I've got the best team behind me. Nobody can stand on their own without a good team behind them."

And it was certainly an extraordinary achievement for Andretti's team, with four of the top six places going to his drivers: as well as Hunter-Reay in victory circle, there was Marco Andretti in fourth ahead of Carlos Munoz, and NASCAR Sprint Cup star Kurt Busch an outstanding sixth in his first Indy 500 outing. Only James Hinchcliffe was missing, have crashed out in an incident with Ed Carpenter 25 laps before the finish.

"Hey, he was going for it," shrugged Andretti when asked about Hinchcliffe's accident. "It's the Indy 500. Had he pulled that move off, he's in a position to win the race. I think he felt if he didn't pull it off, he probably wasn't going to be because those two cars were going to be difficult and fast.

"Watching it, he's going to be like, 'Geez, I shouldn't have done that.' It would have been nice to have him up there, for sure. We had four cars up there, would have loved to have seen him up there, but I can't complain," he said. "It was amazing when I looked up at the pylon at the end, to see all our cars up there in the top six. Just an amazing team effort. I'm so proud of the team. I'm proud of Ryan."

Marco had led for 20 laps during the afternoon and at one point came close to passing his team mate during the all-important final laps, before finally deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and that he didn't have the pace necessary to go nose-to-nose with Hunter-Reay and Castroneves.

"We never really dominated," said Marco. "You could say that Ryan and Helio did. The only way we had a shot is if those two got together. They were putting so many blocks on me that there was nothing I could do. Every time we got to the front, we got shuffled back.

"[Ryan] almost took me out in turn 3," he added. "I almost crashed. I think if it wasn't for the Indy 500, I was going to be pretty mad at Ryan - but it is for the Indy 500 and he's up there and I'm not. This is as competitive as IndyCar has ever been, I don't care what anyone has to say."

"Marco and I went close there going into turn three. We respect each other a lot on the track," responded Hunter-Reay. "It was good, close racing. I knew last night before I went to bed I was going to have to battle one of my teammates to get this thing, to get through them. For sure we probably had the strongest cars out there.

Michael Andretti admitted that he's had conflicting emotions watching the two battling on the track.

"As a dad, you want him [Marco] to be up here, I can't lie. It would have been so special," he said. "But it's special having Ryan here. When it's your kid, it's a different thing, [but] as an owner, I can't be happier with what we had. Marco gave it a heck of a shot. Unfortunately his car just wasn't quick enough there in the end. He drove a really good race, as it seems he always does here. He's one of the best drivers I've ever seen around this place."

For Hunter-Reay, victory in the Indy 500 is without question the culmination of a dream. "I grew up as a fan of this sport first and foremost. My dad took me as a kid to some Indy car races. I was just fascinated, especially with this race," he explained. "When I was a kid, I looked up to the Andrettis, I looked up to Foyt, Unser, Mears, it was always trying to get there. That was the top right there.

"It was always IndyCar for me," he said. "Came up in karting emulating these guys right when Michael was at his prime. It was a one-way, one-track road. There was no other avenue. This is the top, IndyCar, the Indy 500. Having a shot, being in this race alone is a privilege.

"When we were kissing the bricks, that's when it sank in and I got the feeling like tears were starting to come," he added. "Kissing the bricks, seeing that trophy, drinking the milk, helps make it a reality. Sitting up here with Michael talking to all of you is fantastic.

"You work so long for it. Just like winning the championship, you work so hard all season long to get there. When it happens, it takes a little bit to set in because you've worked so hard for it," he said. "I can't even believe it. I'm sure tonight when I'm sitting by myself, that's when it's really going to hit me.

"This is the history of auto racing. This is the biggest event in the world, the biggest single-day sporting event in the world. It's the one that everybody wants to aim for and shoot for," he continued. "Being an American boy, I think when you look at maybe the NASCAR side of it, it's all Americans.

"This is an international sport, open-wheel. We do battle on every different type of discipline, short ovals, street courses, the only series in the world like that. The Verizon IndyCar Series is a true drivers championship. That's what I love most about it.

"This is what I've dreamed of since I was a little kid," he added. "The championship is right next to this win. This one is probably on top of that.

"Winning this one here is definitely a game changer," he summed up. "It's a dream come true man, I can't even believe it ... My dream has come true today and I'm a proud American boy, that's for sure."



Related Pictures

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Ryan Hunter-Reay during his post-race preference (Photo by: Dana Garrett for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to a second-place finish Sunday, May 25, 2014, during the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Castroneves finished just 0.0600 seconds behind race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, just missing becoming only the fourth four-time winner of the race. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates his win (Photo by: Mike Young for IndyCar Media)
Michael Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay before kissing the bricks (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay kisses the bricks (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Confetti falls on the podium trio Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter celebrate after the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter celebrate after the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan celebrates winning the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan celebrates with Chip Ganassi after winning the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan comes in for service during the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan takes a selfie with his Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew in Victory Lane following the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya comes in for service during the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Chip Ganassi congratulates Tony Kanaan on winning the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on Saturday August 30 2014 (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
The #12 Penske crew celebrate title success (Photo by: Richard Dowdy for IndyCar Media)
Tony Kanaan celebrates winning the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on Saturday August 30 2014 (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Will Power celebrates winning the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship title (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Will Power wheel-to-wheel with Graham Rahal (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
The start of the MAVTV 500 (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)

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