MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was a crazy, crazy night. And that's exactly what we told him going into the race – this is going to be a crazy race. It actually played out exactly the way I thought it would because we knew it was going to be tough. Especially in the beginning, and we knew it was going to be a race of survival.
We had a car that was not so good in the beginning, and every pit stop we just kept making it better and better and better. We made it good enough to get the job done to get in there and to be able to fight with at least getting in the top 5. Because at that point, that's what we needed, and Ryan did one hell of a job, I can tell you. He drove his butt off when he needed to. He got this thing done.
Just really proud of him and the whole DHL/Sun Drop team. It was a really tough championship. Hat's off to the Penske guys. They made our lives more miserable. Did a heck of a job to repair that car and get it out there. We knew exactly what they were doing. We were like they want to get ahead of [E.J.] Viso, and we have to finish one more spot up, and that's exactly what they did. At that time it was like, “Oh boy, this is going to be really tough.” But we got it done. So it feels really good.
Even after Will Power crashed, the reality set in that now Ryan's still got to finish pretty high up in order to clinch it. How excruciating was that, especially because there was a period there where he was having trouble getting into the top 10, but it was before midpoint of the race?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, exactly, but we felt we had a car we can adjust. The first thing we said is if we can take front wing on this thing after the first pit stop, we'll have a car we can work with at least to get up there, and that is exactly what we did.
So for a pit stop we made it better and better and better. So after first or second stop, I thought, I think we've got a car that we can get it up there if we just keep pushing and we needed some luck along the way. We needed the yellows to come out when they did. That helped a lot. That bunched us up and allowed Ryan to get a good restart and put himself up in a position to be in the top 5. So it takes all of that. It was a nerve-wracking day.
Michael, talking to your three drivers this year, all three of them saying they had a different kind of relationship this year and really helped each other. Can you talk about that a little bit?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, we talk about the team effort. It's not just the yellow [Hunter-Reay] team, it's all the way through. Everybody worked really hard together and worked together, and it started with the drivers. Those three are friends, and they get along and they help each other. When everybody on the team sees that sort of camaraderie, it just trickles down all the way through the team.
That's the reason why we've got the results this year, and I really believe that. It's really exciting for us that we're going to be able to keep it together and hopefully win some more of these things.
Can you pretty much talk us through the last couple of laps after the red flag? First of all, seeing how Ryan was driving at his best, were there any moments where you told him, “OK, play it safe or just drive your heart out?” Can you talk us through those moments?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, there in the last couple laps we saw he was battling with [Takuma] Sato and actually going into that corner in the last lap we said, “Just let Sato go, because we're OK because, you know, all you have to do is finish right behind him and we're good.” And we had a gap behind us. Right after I said that, everybody started screaming. I'm like, “What happened?” because I wasn't looking at the monitor. And I heard, that Sato hit the wall – and didn't hit us – and we won.
I saw you were not very happy with the situation with the red flag?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, I really wasn't. It's never been done before, and we're the guinea pigs for it. So it was a little disappointing, but it ended up being OK in the end.
At Baltimore, you projected that Ryan Hunter-Reay would win. And I saw you predicted that Ryan Hunter‑Reay would win back in Long Beach. When are you going to Vegas next?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, it's just…you just feel it. And I felt like after Baltimore, we got back in control of our own destiny to a certain point. Where now we knew, “OK, we win and we could finish out in the top three.” It made it a lot more realistic that we can do this.
It ended up different. I was hoping that we'd be winning and Will finished fourth. But when Will did crash, it opened up the opportunity for us. But like I said, at that point, we knew we had a lot of hard work, too, but it opened it up, gave us a target, and we went for it.
I know sometimes this is a question you don't like to answer, but this being the first American IndyCar Series champion since Sam Hornish in 2006, how important is that to have that for this series?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's great when an American beats the best in the world, and that's what happened. That's what makes it mean something. If it was just all Americans out there, then it doesn't mean as much. But when an American can beat all these other great drivers from different countries, it's a great thing. So I'm very proud to be an American. I'm very proud of Ryan, so it's a good feeling.
Back in 2007 when Dario Franchitti won the title with you and you picked up the wins at Michigan or Kentucky. How much is different or similar compared to this year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, this was a little different. Dario jumped out to an early lead in the championship. So it came to the point where we almost gave it away in the end. Whereas here, we were pursuing most of the time. You know, we got to the point where we had a nice lead and we lost it again. Then we just put our heads down and got it back in the last two races.
I've got to say that this is probably the sweetest one of all. To come back through the adversity that the team has gone through the last few years and to bring it back and be back on top just makes me feel so good and so proud of everybody here at the Andretti team.
Following up on that, this is the first time since 2007 and Dario's championship and the intervening five years. What's happened within the team to get you here this season?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, there was a change in ownership where I took full control. So things changed there. Then 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. We did it. 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, you know what, 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 even more. From then on we felt like right before the season it was 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.
I know it's hard to pick a single moment over a 15‑race schedule that was the key. But it seemed like your decision at Baltimore to stay on the dry tires when Will decided to go with the wets, that created the crack in the door that Ryan needed to get back and win this championship.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I'm not going to take all the credit. We have great guys on our timing stand. It wasn't just me making the decision. We talked it over and that's what we came up with. Yeah, that was the moment, and we knew it. I told Ryan, “We're going to win this race if you keep it on the island just for these two laps while it dries out.” Ryan did exactly that, and that's what happened.
Ryan's the first Chevy driver to win the championship since 2002. Can you talk about what it means for them?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Chevy has been a great partner. We evaluated which way to go at the beginning of the year or the end of last year. We just felt like they were really strong company, and they're really serious about winning. Ilmor, who we worked with for a long time does a great job. So we felt confident that we were going to make the right decision to go with Chevrolet. Obviously, I think in the end it shows that we did.
You've mentioned the rebuilding process you've had the last few years. How much are you looking forward to 2013 having the same driver lineup for the first time in a few years?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Very excited about that. Continuity means a lot. Also, what excites me even more is I think there is a lot more room for improvement within the team. I think there are still things that we want to do a little bit better, and we all know it, and we all know what we need to do. So I think we can be even stronger next year.