It’s Hunter-Reay In Indianapolis 500 Thriller!

Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after winning the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after winning the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates after winning the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. (Al Steinberg Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – It was a “Race of Dreams.”

One driver was attempting to become the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. The other was a driver who had watched the Indianapolis 500 for the first time on television while he was still in diapers with his father and wondered if he would ever get a chance to win just one Indianapolis 500.

And for the huge crowd that attended Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500 under ideal conditions – sunny and temperatures in the 80s – it was a finish they had dreamed of witnessing.

Simply put, it was an “Instant Classic” as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves traded leads three times in the final three laps with Hunter-Reay defeating the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner by just .0600 second of a second – the second-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history. It was just a tick behind the famed 1992 finish when Al Unser Jr. defeated Scott Goodyear by .043 of a second.

It was the 2012 IndyCar Series champion’s first Indianapolis 500 win and denied Castroneves becoming the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 by the narrowest of margins.

“This is what I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid,” Hunter-Reay said after the biggest win of his career. “The championship is right next to this win. This one is probably on top of that. It’s amazing. It hasn’t yet sunk in. Last year was very close. To lose to T.K. (Tony Kanaan) I watched the replays on ESPN Classic, to see how close he’s come so many times.

“Things just happen. That’s this race.

“This guy next to me (team owner Michael Andretti) is one of the quickest drivers to ever set foot in this place, things just didn’t fall right for him on race day. I was given a chance with the car at the end and we pulled it off. I couldn’t have done it with a greater group of people, that’s for sure.”

It was a thrilling finish that began after the race was stopped following a massive crash by Townsend Bell in turn two that damaged the SAFER Barrier with nine laps left. It also ensured the race would be restarted and not finish under the yellow flag.

When the green flag waved on lap 195 Hunter-Reay was in the lead with Castroneves and teammate Marco Andretti chasing him from behind. One lap later Castroneves pulled out and passed Hunter-Reay into the first turn. Andretti tried to pass for second but couldn’t finish the move.

Hunter-Reay retook the lead on the inside of turn three on lap 197 when he nearly drove through the grass on the backstretch in a moment of truth move he hoped would win the race. With Castroneves running behind the leader, it seemed only a matter of time before he would be able to slingshot past the driver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the win.

Castroneves passed Hunter-Reay for the lead in turn one on lap 198 but one lap later Hunter-Reay pulled out from behind the leader out of turn four. He passed Castroneves at the start/finish line and the field had just one more lap to go to decide the race.

As both cars charged out of turn four, Castroneves pulled out to try to pass Hunter-Reay for the victory. Both cars drove to the checkered flag with Hunter-Reay’s Dallara/Honda barely ahead of Castroneves’ Dallara/Chevrolet.

“It’s interesting when second place kind of sucks,” Castroneves said. “But certainly taking the positive out of this, it was a great race. Ryan Hunter-Reay, great race. He did everything he could. I did everything I could obviously to try to stop. It was definitely unbelievable.