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Hunter-Reay survives thriller to win title

All the time over in victory lane, the news was finally sinking in and Ryan Hunter-Reay was beginning to celebrate. The first American winner of the IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish Jr. achieved it in 2006, and Hunter-Reay had certainly done it in style - and in one helluva race to finish the 2012 season.

"This hasn't sunk in yet - I just drove 500 miles for my life, I can't believe we're IndyCar champions. I can't even believe this!" he gasped as he climbed out of the cockpit of the #28. "My dream has come true. This is unbelievable."

He said that it really had been as hard work and nerve-racking as it has looked, and that he hadn't been holding anything back or sandbagging for the final laps but really appeared quite doomed in the early stages. "It was team effort right there. We were struggling all weekend. I didn't want to let anyone really know about it. We were really in the woods," he said. "I didn't think we had it for the first half of the race and we kept getting it better and better and better."

The brief stoppage near the end had sent stress levels through the roof in the final minutes: "The red flag, that really got the nerves going. Sitting in pit lane, I knew the tyres would take in a heat cycle and that it would slide around a lot. Everybody raced tough, but they raced clean."

"It was a crazy, crazy night," added team owner Michael Andretti. "That's exactly what we told him going into the race, this is going to be a crazy race. It actually played out exactly the way I thought it would because we knew it was going to be tough.

"Hats off to the Penske guys, they made our lives more miserable!" he added. "I was hoping that we'd be winning and Will finished fourth, but when Will did crash, it opened up the opportunity for us ... We went for it."

With one American driver winning the title and another winning the race, Andretti was particularly happy about what this might mean for a resurgence of open wheel racing in the US.

"I think it's great when an American beats the best in the world, and that's what happened," he said. "That's what make it's mean something. If it was just all Americans out there, then it doesn't mean as much, but when an American can beat all these other great drivers from different countries, it's a great thing.

"I'm very proud to be an American. I'm very proud of Ryan," he said, as the champagne flowed and the celebrations began. "I've got to say that this is probably the sweetest one of all. To come back through the adversity that the team has gone through the last few years and to bring it back and be back on top just makes me feel so good and so proud of everybody here at the Andretti team."

Full race results available
Final IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings available.

Related Pictures

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Ed Carpenter celebrates winning the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (c) 2012, Perry Nelson (Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA)
Ed Carpenter #20 celebrates with Scott Dixon #9 and Dario Franchitti #10 after winning the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (c) 2012 Jamey Price (Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA)
Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (c) 2012, Michael L. Levitt (Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA)
Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is congratulated by runner-up Will Power after the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (c) 2012, Michael L. Levitt (Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA)
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cruachan - Unregistered

September 16, 2012 1:25 PM

Congrats to RHR and Andretti Autosport, they've done a great job after several years in the wilderness (relatively) and Ryan has shown great consistency this year. Credit to Will Power too. I've never been a fan of him due to some of his off track antics but he showed a lot of dignity and class to be one of the first to congratulate Ryan. He's in danger of becoming IndyCar's Nori Haga though, three years in a row he's lost it at the finale.

Firefly - Unregistered

September 16, 2012 2:19 PM

Great article. And what a race, it was really worth staying up for. Those last 10 laps were the most nervewracking oval laps I've ever seen. Congratulations to anyone in IndyCar for a great season, let's hope 2013 is even better.

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