If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
That's the hoary old cliche. But apparently Michael Andretti is taking it to new extremes, as the IndyCar world learned today that Andretti Autosport negotiated a deal to buy a starting spots for Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was bumped from the field by his teammate Marco Andretti after the conclusion of time trials for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.
It has been confirmed that the team in question is A.J. Foyt Racing, whose second car was qualified in 19th position by Bruno Junqueira. The #41 Dallara is sponsorless and Foyt has been running the car out-of-pocket by his own admission. Junqueira was pulled from the drive and replaced by Hunter-Reay; Andretti Autosport will operate the #41 car and provide the crew for the effort, along with Hunter-Reay's sponsors to go along with Foyt sponsor ABC Supply.
The official press release from AJ Foyt Racing follows:
Ryan Hunter-Reay To Replace Bruno Junqueira for Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS May 24, 2011--Difficult times make for hard choices. Both A.J. Foyt and Michael Andretti made some hard choices in the past 24 hours which will result in Ryan Hunter-Reay replacing Bruno Junqueira in A.J. Foyt’s No. 41 Dallara/Honda in the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500.
When Marco Andretti bumped his way back into the field in the final minute of qualifying on Bump Day, his successful run booted teammate Hunter-Reay from the race. Faced with the prospect of disappointing his major sponsors, Andretti looked to Foyt at the suggestion of Hunter-Reay, who had driven for Foyt in 2009.
Foyt had helped out Hunter-Reay in the past when Tony George’s team closed its doors leaving Hunter-Reay without a ride. Foyt hired him to replace regular ABC Supply driver Vitor Meira who was sidelined for the season after his accident at Indy that year. Meira returned to Foyt for 2010 and Hunter-Reay landed a ride with the Andretti Autosport team.
A.J. Foyt cast a new light on the famed Foyt-Andretti rivalry which sparked some of the best battles on the track and most colorful remarks off of it.
“We’ve been competitors for many years but still it’s the kind of relationship when someone is really down and out, you can’t turn your back on them—at least I can’t,” said Foyt, whose fulltime driver Vitor Meira will start 11th in the No. 14 ABC Supply car. “This is going back to the way racing used to be, where if people were in a lot of trouble, you tried to help each other out. I know it’s a tough deal for Bruno but he understood the situation. I appreciate that more than anyone knows.”
Junqueira was philosophical about the driver switch, noting that he enjoyed his brief experience working with the Foyt team. He said, “I have to thank A.J., Larry and the team for giving me this opportunity to drive at Indy this year because otherwise I would have been riding my bike in Miami. I always respected A.J. before, but after working with him, I respect him even more. He has a lot of knowledge and I learned a lot from him. I had a great time working with him and Vitor, and I hope my work helped them this month. I also hope the team has a great race.”
Hunter-Reay, who has experienced both the highs and lows of a sport dependent on corporate sponsorship, said, “There has been an incredible range of emotion these past few days. Commercial decisions and corporate support is what makes it possible for both of our teams to compete and this was a commercially driven decision. I am an IndyCar driver and I’m also a representative for DHL, Dr Pepper and its brands, including Sun Drop Citrus Soda. I know this is not the first time this has happened in Indy 500 history but I feel terrible for Bruno and I thank him for his efforts and I hope he understands. It’s cool to be driving for A.J. again, especially with Michael’s support and encouragement. This is not how I envisioned the month of May this year but we are still committed to winning this race for DHL and Sun Drop.”
Hunter-Reay, the winningest American driver currently competing in Indy car racing, joined the Andretti Autosport family in advance of the 2010 season and immediately broke through with a popular win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – giving Michael Andretti his first win as the sole team owner. He went on to have a successful year laying claim to 12 top-ten finishes in 17 starts. Hunter-Reay extended the Andretti relationship with a two-year contract that will take him through the 2012 season. The 2008 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, will make his fourth Indianapolis 500 start in Sunday’s running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
"I can't thank A.J. and his team enough for giving us an opportunity to put Ryan, DHL, Sun Drop and our other valued sponsors in the Indy 500,” said Michael Andretti, team owner of Andretti Autosport. “Obviously, this is a unique circumstance for our team, but the thought of A.J. Foyt joining forces with the Andrettis for the Indy 500 could result in something special. It's a credit to A.J. for being willing to help us with one of our full-season IndyCar entries at a time when we need it."
According to the rules, the driver switch will move the No. 41 car to the back of the 33-car field.