The table was set for an Andretti butt-kicking. Marco Andretti was on pole, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi were starting fifth, sixth and ninth, with Colton Herta taking the green flag from the 10th slot. They’d been fast in practice, in traffic and in windy and hot conditions.
But Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 turned out to be a huge disappointment for Michael Andretti’s team.
His son never led a lap and finished 13th, while his top gun hit the wall after a questionable penalty and one of his former winners was fast early before being derailed in the pits.
It’s hard to imagine Hinch’s seventh place as the best showing.
“What a nightmare,” said one of the Andretti crewman as he trudged back to Gasoline Alley.
Now, there’s a good chance Rossi would have had a say in the outcome. He led 17 laps in and was right behind Dixon when he pitted on lap 131. But he made contact with Takuma Sato as he exited his pit stall and was sent to the rear of the field for an unsafe release.
“I thought we had the car to win, and had we stayed up front we could have made a run for it,” said the 2016 Indy winner, who crashed on lap 144 trying to get back to the front. “Because of a pit lane penalty that we still don’t fully understand, we didn’t get to stay up front. We shouldn’t have been in a position to have to run in the back. There was a lot of dirty air back there, and we just lost it. Not how we were hoping to see today go.”
Hunter-Reay was in the top five until an early pit stop took him out of contention for his second Indy win.
“We came away with a top 10, but that doesn’t reflect the potential of the DHL Honda today,” he said. “We built a car to run in the front, and that’s where we should have been in the end. The car had the pace. I drove a clean race; we just didn’t get it done. Sometimes races are won and lost on the track, and sometimes they are won and lost in the pits. We had the first part covered, but unfortunately the latter is what wrote our story today.”
Hinchcliffe actually made a nice comeback to finish seventh in his Genesys Honda after losing almost a lap in the pits.
“It’s funny: You see, ‘Start seventh, finish sixth,’ and it sounds like a basic day, but it really wasn’t that for us,” he said. “We had a little problem on our second pit stop, couldn’t get the car in gear and went all the way to back of the lead lap. From there, it was just kind of damage control. That was before halfway, and I got on the radio, ‘Hey, look it’s a long race, and a lot can happen.’
“Luckily, on that last restart, we just got a monster restart and picked off a couple cars. It’s just so hard when you get further back in that line. We were ahead of Pato (O’Ward) and Josef (Newgarden) before that stop. If we had been able to keep that track position, there’s a chance we could’ve had a solid top-five run.”
Herta hung in or around the top 19 all afternoon but just didn’t have the pace he needed.
“It was an OK race but we didn’t have enough for the win,” he said.
But the real downer was Andretti. After a herculean effort to win the pole, the 33-year-old veteran never led a lap and gradually fell back through the field.
“We had high hopes coming into the race today after being fast all month but we didn’t have it today,” said Andretti. “We didn’t have the pickup we needed on the restarts. That left us a sitting duck, and we weren’t able to gain ground on pit stops to make up for anything. Everything combined left us 13th.”