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Alongside Hunter-Reay: Long fight to get back

10.29.2012 (Via Dave Lewandowski, - Last in a series looking at the IZOD IndyCar Series championship season of Ryan Hunter-Reay through various eyes. Today, team owner Michael Andretti talks about the team's rebuilding.

Michael Andretti drove out of Auto Club Speedway Sept. 15 with the celebration of an IZOD IndyCar Series driver/team championship unyielding under a sole track security light.

The Indy car champion turned team owner/entrepreneur had realized the fourth championship in his 10th year in the series – satisfaction and pride evident that was a 180-degree turn from Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 16 months earlier.

“It was probably my worst day as an owner,” Andretti said that day when Ryan Hunter-Reay was bumped from the field by the final qualifier – Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti. To get Hunter-Reay into the 33-car field, Andretti purchased a qualified car from A.J. Foyt.

Hunter-Reay started 33rd and finished 23rd in the Indianapolis 500, which wasn’t the overarching story. The events on motorsports biggest stage were a wakeup call, which Andretti and the executive team quickly heeded.

“There was a rebuilding process because there were a lot of things that needed to be changed, and these are things that you just don't do overnight,” Andretti says. “We built, slowly did it, and just constantly trying to make the right personnel changes; putting people in the right spots.

“Middle of last year I think we got it right. At that point we felt like we're getting our mojo back and we're going to be a real contender next year.  Then to bring James (Hinchcliffe) into the mix just reinforced it.  From then on we felt like we have a real legitimate shot to win this championship with one of these three guys.  Ryan is the guy that came out of it and did a hell of a job.”

Hunter-Reay clinched the series title by three points over Will Power by finishing fourth in the drama-filled season finale at the 2-mile oval. He scored a field-high four victories, including three in a row mid-season that propelled him from seventh in the standings to contention.

“It was a long fight to get back, and it feels good,” adds Andretti, who moved this season from calling the races for his son to being Hunter-Reay’s strategist.

Andretti, taking the big picture approach, notes the collective team often in this year’s resurgence – from the three drivers to shop-based personnel.

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