EDMONTON - Ryan Hunter-Reay was under orders from his boss to be late for the Andretti Autosport team meeting Thursday. Again.
“He’s been late every Thursday for his engineering meeting, so we told him he’s got to plan on being late for the next one in Edmonton,” said Michael Andretti.
The idea is not to change anything for the final five race weekends of the season.
“If everybody just continues to the same things, I think we can win the championship.”
Hunter-Reay, you hopefully know by now, has won the last three IZOD IndyCar races.
But the bigger picture story is that Andretti Autosport is back running up there with Penske and Ganassi.
It’s been a while.
Indeed, this is the first time since the merger that Andretti has come to Edmonton as the force he used to be.
Andretti looked across the portable version of Gasoline Alley that’s the IndyCar Paddock where Ganassi is set up and down the line to the Penske quarters and laughed when asked about his current relationship with Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi.
“They don’t talk to me anymore,” he said.
With American Hunter-Reay leading the series and Canada’s James Hinchcliffe in fifth, it’s been the year Andretti has been fighting to find for a lot longer than he would have ever imagined, considering his history.
“It’s been tough, like any long losing streak in sports. But it does make you stronger. It’s made us stronger as a team.
“It took lots of hard work to get here. And it really feels good when you get back winning again,” he said as members of the team worked on their cars behind him Thursday on the most impressive midway in town.
“We made a lot of changes that all started to kick in — internal changes, not just drivers,” he said.
Andretti started making them after the Indy 500 last year and said he could see the current success coming at this stage of the season last year.
“I think Hunter-Reay would have won the race here last year if he had not tried that move on Takuma Sato and got black flagged.
“I think Hinch is on the verge of winning. He could win this race.”
Andretti is impressed by his Canadian driver.
“James changed us as a team. He brought a chemistry as the right driver that goes right down through the team.”
Is there something to read in there considering he’s replacing Danica Patrick?
“Things are just better,” said Andretti.
“They like each other. They trust each other. They hang out together. They have dinner together.”
Andretti, back when he was driving, always loved coming to Canada. All he did up here was win. And it kind of feels like that again, as he comes off a win at the Toronto Indy.
“Almost a quarter of my wins were in Canada,” he said.
“I can’t explain it. I never did win the Indy 500. I had the cars to win. But I never won it. I sure was able to win in Canada, though.”
He won Toronto in 1989, Toronto and Vancouver in 1991 and again in 1992. He won back-to-back again in Toronto in 1993 and 1994, won Vancouver again in 1996 and Toronto back-to-back again in 2001 and 2002.
That’s 10 of the 42 wins, which places him third for all-time victories in IndyCar racing behind dad Mario (52 wins) and A.J. Foyt (67 wins).
As an owner, Michael won the 2004 series championship with Tony Kanaan, the Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon in 2005 and the Indy 500 again in 2007 with Dario Franchitti behind the wheel, winning the series title that year as well.
But it’s been pretty dry since.
“This is why you’re in it,” said Michael, who said it was dad Mario who, in an unknowing way, convinced him to become an owner.
“I’m doing something he never wanted to do. But I saw it with him a couple of years after he retired ... how lost he was. I didn’t want to be lost like that.
“I enjoyed the business side of it. I was at dinner with Barry Green, who was the owner of the team I was driving for at the time and I told him I was thinking of owning a team. He surprised me and said ‘Why don’t you buy mine?’
“It can be a big headache, I can tell you that. But it’s been my life. This is what I love.”
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