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Repeat performance at Milwaukee
Roy Schmidt photo, 2006 at Milwaukee
Roy Schmidt photo, 2006 at Milwaukee

By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 3, 2007: The fickle side of racing was never more prevalent during the last two Indy Racing League series events when Tony Kanaan was the most dominant car in last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 only to loose to teammate Dario Franchitti when rain shortened the event while today he was the beneficiary when Helio Castroneves suffered mechanical woes with less than 25 miles remaining and sped to his second straight win in the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 presented by Time Warner Cable-Road Runner at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway-The Milwaukee Mile.

For Castroneves, who has never enjoyed any type of real success in Milwaukee, it was a premature end to what looked like sure victory for the second year in row. Last year after winning the pole and leading 31 laps he was taken up in an accident while today, after leading at will for 126 laps, the popular drive suffered an rare mechanical failure on his Team Penske Dallara that put him in the all with 24 laps to go and giving Kanaan redemption from his dominance a week earlier in Indy.

Castroneves sped to the early lead in the race followed by Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr. and paced the first 24 laps of the race until the first of 6 caution flags appeared on lap 22 for debris in the middle of the frontstretch. This sent all the leaders to the pits with the exception of Buddy Rice, whose Dreyer & Reinbold team elected to keep the 2004 Indy 500 winner on the track and in the lead gambling on a subsequent caution flag to make their stop for tires and fuel.

One the restart Rice was able to stay in front of Kanaan, Hornish, Wheldon and the rest of the field for the next 37 laps before having his tires give way to the fresher rubber on the cars behind him with Castroneves retaking the lead on lap 62 was Rice quickly faded back in the field having to make a green flag pit stop on lap 77 that put him a lap down.

On lap 89 the cars of Danica Patrick and Wheldon made contact in the first turn when Patrick was attempting to overtake Wheldon for the fourth position in the race. While racing on the inside of Patrick it seemed as though her right front tire made contact with Wheldon’s left rear knocking the right upper control arm on her car awry. This brought out the yellow for the second time and sent a very upset Patrick to the pits. Her crew did a valiant job but she lost a lap in the repair process and she returned to the track. Later race strategy would get her back on the lead lap and after the race she would confront Wheldon over the incident as she perceived it happening a different way.

Kanaan was the winner of the race off pit road and took but on the restart it was Wheldon who showed the way but only for five laps before the powerful Castroneves was back in control.

Debris in turn three brought out yellow number three on lap 135 and once again all the leaders pitted with Wheldon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing team turning him first again. The restart saw Wheldon lead for the next 30 laps until Rice was victimized by a cut tire and contact with the second turn wall ending what was his best effort of the young 2007 Indy Racing League season thus far.

Wheldon and Vitor Meira elected to stop for fuel only during the caution that followed Rice’s crash and emerged from the pits in first and second and that decision would come back to haunt them later.

On new tires it took Castroneves only one lap to power by both Wheldon and Meira to take the lead as both began to slip back in the running order as Castroneves began building his lead lap after lap over Kanaan, his Penske teammate Hornish and Franchitti.

Cruising with a 2.7 second lead on lap 201 the wing on Castroneves car collapsed as he came down the front stretch sending his car spinning ultimately resting next to the outside wall on the front stretch bring out yellow number 5 and ending his bid to break his Milwaukee “jinx”. Mounting brackets that support the wing broke. Had this happened at a high speed banked track the end result could have more significant for the driver than on the flat Milwaukee Mile.

Marco Andretti slipped out of the grove in the second turn on lap 210 to bring out the final caution of the race ending what was to have been a good outing for the 20 year old son of team owner and previous Milwaukee Mile winner Michael.

On the restart it was Kanaan ahead of Hornish when the latter felt his wing was also becoming unstable and he pulled off into the pits with five laps to go to have it checked out losing a lap and a top three finish.

At the end it was Kanaan ahead of his teammate, Franchitti with Wheldon, Dixon and Meira rounding out the top five. Scott Sharp, Ed Carpenter, Patrick, Hornish and Jeff Simmons rounded out the top 10.
“Sometimes it is not the best car that wins,” said Kanaan after the race knowing first hand his experience just a week ago. “It was a difficult race; we just hung in there and prevailed. We got behind early in the race as my crew had trouble. They made a mistake and I was able to help them this time. Other times they have helped me. This is a team sport and today it showed.”

Still smiling from his prestigious win at Indy last week Franchitti, the winner of the 2004 ABC Supply event at Milwaukee, was equally happy. “We did what we had to do today,” said Franchitti. “My car was for a while and then the handling would go away. We chased it all race long and to finish second is a credit to my team. Andretti-Green Racing finished one-two again and it can’t get much better than that.”

When questioned about his tire gamble Wheldon said. “In hindsight we should have changed the tires but at the moment when a decision must be made we made what we thought was the right call and it was unfortunate that it did not work out they way we would have liked.”

After his interview Patrick came up to him, put her arm around Wheldon and discussed the contact on lap 89. From a distance it looked as though some shoving followed the verbal exchange. Patrick would say she felt she did not do wrong and that the league officials should address the incident. “I hope there is a good reason for not taking any action on the league’s part,” said Patrick. “I asked him (Wheldon) why he choose to come down on me and that is all.”

For his part in the matter all Wheldon would say, “It was a racing accident, no more or no less. I understand there is a lot of pressure on her now that her teammates are winning and she is not. I do not think that the accident was my fault at all.”

The wing bracket failure on both Team Penske cars brings up a serious question. Indy Racing League officials issue a spec wing to the team. It is the area of the bracket that teams look for an advantage in taking more of the wing out of the air to pick up down force and speed. Perhaps they tweaked the brackets a bit too much to gain what is a legal advantage.

Castroneves said, “I had it won, no way was I going to loose unless something happened and it did. I was actually taking it easy at the end with my car being so good and then the wing, it’s incredible but we will learn from this and go to Texas and be even stronger.

Franchitti will take the series point lead to Texas Motor Speedway this coming Saturday with 221 points to Wheldon’s 218. Dixon rests in third at 216 with Kanaan at 201 and Castroneves at 188. Should he have won the race Castroneves would have gone to Texas the leader that is just how competitive this series is?
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