IndyCar Series: Andretti Autosport establishes itself as force

Jun. 25, 2012 | Written by Curt Cavin

NEWTON, Iowa — The statements made late Saturday night might have been strong for the future, but they work for now.

Andretti Autosport is back on top of the Izod IndyCar Series.

Moments after Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Iowa Speedway for a second straight series win, teammate Marco Andretti proclaimed the Indianapolis-based organization the one to beat the rest of the season.

Team Penske’s Will Power, the road course ace, likely will have something to say about that, but this much is clear: Michael Andretti’s team is as functional as it once was dysfunctional.

These aren’t the days of bickering between Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and others, and it seems genuine cohesiveness has developed between Hunter-Reay, Andretti and James Hinchcliffe. These three not only work together, they play together, and they seem to like one another at all turns.

Well, except for the point in this race when Andretti radioed a high-pitched question about the actions of his teammates in traffic.

“What are they doing?” he excitedly asked.

Going fast should have been the answer. All three had strong cars and, at the time, they were chasing Helio Castroneves in the Iowa Corn Indy 250.

Hinchcliffe, Andretti and Hunter-Reay all made it to the front, with Hunter-Reay passing Scott Dixon with 13 laps left. Hinchcliffe might have won had he not lost control and crashed coming through Turn 4 inside Hunter-Reay on a restart.

“A bummer,” Michael Andretti said of Hinchcliffe’s incident. “I think we had a shot at 1-2-3.”

Andretti Green Racing was IndyCar’s original dominant four-car operation, sweeping the top four spots in the 2005 race in St. Petersburg, Fla., won by Dan Wheldon. The team won three championships and two Indianapolis 500s before things started to unravel.

Hunter-Reay, who joined the team in 2010 and now is just three points out of the series lead, said there’s none of that tension now.

“The atmosphere is as good as it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’re clicking as a group.”

For as strong as Andretti’s team was on this night, others had problems. Dario Franchitti was out before the race even started, his Indianapolis 500-winning Honda engine going up in smoke on the pace lap.

Power, the once-presumed series champion, also had problems. He turned down in Turn 2 only to find EJ Viso in that space. The contact between the two sent both hard to the outside wall.

JR Hildebrand had double trouble. He clipped Hunter-Reay’s left rear guard, breaking his front wing. Later, the Panther Racing driver drifted into the wall on the front straightaway.

Ryan Briscoe’s strategist, Roger Penske, called for a pit stop for fuel late in a caution, a brilliant move that put Briscoe in position to win. But before he could capitalize, rookie Josef Newgarden tried to pass on the low side, and the contact shot them both to the wall. Their perspectives differed.

Briscoe gave a professional assessment, essentially blaming Newgarden without exactly saying so.

“It was too late in the corner to make a pass like that,” he said.

Newgarden said he was confused by Briscoe’s intentions.

“It seemed like he wanted middle to outside (lane),” he said.

The start of the race was delayed nearly 40 minutes by rain, but then so was last week’s Milwaukee race that Hunter-Reay won. Maybe it’s coincidence or maybe it’s the Andretti renaissance. Either seems possible at this point.

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