Controversy continues to swirl about Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michael Andretti, following the revelation that Andretti Autosport had struck a deal with A.J. Foyt Racing to replace its qualified driver, Bruno Junqueira, with Hunter-Reay in Foyt's No. 41 entry. Hunter-Reay – who was bumped from the field in his own car by teammate Marco Andretti in the final moments of Sunday's Time Trials – and his car owner moved to tamp down fan and media angst about the move, expressing regret about the bruised feelings but underscoring their view that they had done nothing wrong.
“When Sunday was over, we needed to find a way to take care of our sponsors – the same sponsors that get us to the racetrack every race, all season long, and keep the lights on at our shop,” explained Andretti. “Without them, we don't exist. So, it wasn't a tough decision from that perspective. We had to figure out a Plan B. Not getting them into the Indy 500 was not an option.
“Ryan is a huge part of each of those sponsor programs, and from the sponsors' perspective, it was important that he still be representing them in the Indy 500. A.J. also knows Ryan can get the job done on Sunday and that was a big part of this. They've worked together before and A.J. knows what Ryan is capable of. That made it an easier option for both of us.”
“Am I happy to have the chance to run in the Indy 500? Sure, but this isn't at all how I wanted it to happen,” conceded Hunter-Reay. “I have the utmost respect for the Indianapolis 500, but this is not the way I wanted things to pan out. I'm in the race, but I'm not going to celebrate. This race has a legacy and tradition that is undeniable. The reality is our car didn't qualify and now I'm racing in the 41.
“I'm still very disappointed in the way our weekend turned out, but Andretti Autosport and A.J. Foyt Racing need me on Sunday, and I'm going to be ready to go.”
Hunter-Reay emphasized that he felt badly for Junqueira, who was forced to give up a car he had qualified for the second time in the past three Indy 500s.
“I feel awful for Bruno. He did a great job getting the 41 car into the field and I know how disappointed he must be to not be driving it on Sunday,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Bruno as a driver and as a person."
Hunter-Reay added that he had not been involved in bringing the deal about.
“I guess our team approached A.J. after we got bumped from the field at the end of the day on Sunday. I didn't talk to anybody about it until my team came to me after their initial meeting with A.J. That was the first I knew of it,” he said, adding that he understood why fans might be upset about it.
“I understand their passion for the Indy 500 and I hope they understand that I am just the driver. And, my job is to drive when and where I'm told to drive. I don't determine things like this. The team needs me in the car this Sunday and I'm going to give it everything I've got.
“Again, I feel terrible for Bruno. But, really, this is not about me and Bruno. This is about our teams and those who support our teams all season long.”
Andretti also insisted that criticism of the move is unjustified.
“The fastest 33 cars are what qualify for the Indy 500 and that's always been the case,” Andretti said. “We're not doing anything that changes that. This has happened before. One of the greatest finishes in Indy 500 history, in 1992, involved a car that had a driver change before the race. Scott Goodyear replaced Mike Groff and Scott nearly won the race. It's not a new thing.
“I disagree with the idea that we are doing something to hurt the integrity of the Indy 500. We would never do that – ever. The rule is the fastest 33 cars make the race, not the 33 fastest drivers. And, that is what will be on track Sunday.”