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Dario Wins at Milwaukee
Simona DeSilvestro crashes in qualifying.  By Roy Schmidt
Simona DeSilvestro crashes in qualifying. By Roy Schmidt

By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 19 2011: Defending IZOD Indy Car Series champion Dario Franchitti was disappointed when Milwaukee was left off the 2010 schedule and was a champion of the return of the series to Milwaukee and this afternoon he showed why he has a love affair with the Milwaukee Mile.

Using a fast car and a bit of racing luck, Franchitti the pole sitter for the race, took the lead for the final time on the 195th lap when both of the cars running in front of him fell victim to “lady luck” and then held off a closing Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia to win the Milwaukee 225 at Wisconsin State Fair Park, the famed “Milwaukee Mile”.

The Milwaukee race, resurrected by the Indy Car Series from a one year hiatus, will be remembered for the many twists and turns that the race took and hopefully those that came out on Fathers Day 2011 were not disappointed and will spread the news to their race fan friends that choose not to come out on this day.

From the time the Target Chip Ganassi team unloaded the Franchitti car it was fast and the 2004 winner of this event was quick in all practice sessions culminating with winning the pole position ahead of Helio Castroneves and his Target teammate Scott Dixon.

It was the opposite of the spectrum from current IZOD Indy Car series point leader, Will Power, who struggled through practice and qualifying and put his car deep in the 26 car field as the race took the green flag just after 3:00 P.M. this afternoon in bright sunshine which followed morning thunderstorms that delayed activity at the track.

Franchitti led the field down for the start of the race and jumped in front of Castroneves as the field headed for the first turn but before a lap could be recorded Ryan Hunter-Reay lost control of his car in the second turn to bring out the first caution of the race before a lap could be recorded.

The contact took Hunter-Reay from the race and when racing resumed on lap 7 Franchitti quickly took control of the race as Castroneves settled in to do battle with Tony Kanaan, Dixon, Servia and Takuma Sato.

It was another difficult race for Simona De Silvestro, who won legions of fans for her heroic effort last month in Indianapolis. A hard crash in practice yesterday sent her to the hospital for tests and after being examined she was cleared to drive at 10:00 A.M. today. Her crew worked until 3:00 A.M. this morning to repair the car and she took to the race not knowing how competitive the car would be, sadly it was not good, and she pulled out after completing a handful of laps but her gallant effort was rewarded by everyone in the stands.

On the track Franchitti built a lead of 3.5 seconds by the 40th lap but at that point his car with a dwindling fuel load began to loose its handling and the rest of the field came back to him so much so that Kanaan was setting up for the pass when the second caution came out on lap 66 when Ana Beatriz made contact with the turn four SAFER barrier.

With scheduled green flag pit stops just about to begin this was a boon to everyone as all the leaders headed to the pits. The stop for Franchitti went smooth and he retained the lead but things did not go as well for his teammate, Dixon, who was held up going into his pit when the car pitting in front of him Sato hit one of his crewman carrying a tire out sending the tire onto pit lane which resulted in a pass through penalty on the restart, a penalty Sato could not recover from. Dixon came out in 13th after going in 7th.

Franchitti took the green flag on lap 79 but before all the cars could get the green flag Alex Lloyd lost control of his car going into the first turn spun and collected Sebastian Saavedra in the process taking both cars out of the race. Retiring at this point was Vitor Meira in A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply entry. Meira destroyed his primary car in practice and his backup was stable enough for him to continue safely so a decision was made by Foyt to park the car.

On the ensuing restart Franchitti got his customary jump on the field but during this fuel run it took fewer laps for the handling to go away on his car and that allowed Kanaan to move in and pass Franchitti going down the backstretch on lap 115 to lead lap 116, the first different lap leader of the race since the start.

Kanaan was able to put some distance between his machine and that of Franchitti and he now had to worry about Servia and Castroneves as the fourth caution of the race came out on lap 123 when J.R. Hildebrand made contact with the SAFER Barrier in the fourth turn in almost a replay of his misfortunes during the Indy 500 that cost him the win, only this time he was not as competitive in the race and was trying to give Kanaan enough room to lap him but the later slipped up and forced Hildebrand into the tire debris and that took him into the wall.

Kanaan’s KV Racing Technologies team turned him out ahead of Franchitti on the pit stops that followed as Franchitti’s team chose to make a win adjustment to the car to try and improve the handling of the car. During this series of stops an impact gun failed on the Servia car and he came out 12th after going into the pits in third.

When the green flag came back out on lap 134 Kanaan was in the lead but Franchitti went shooting by into the first turn but after a few laps it was clear that the adjustments made to his car did nothing to improve it and Kanaan was back in front on lap 154.

E.J. Viso in a team car to Kanaan and Sato, coming off two top ten finishes in the Texas twin races last week, was running with the top 10 cars all day but that came to an end on lap 164 when he spun in between the second and third turns and made contact with the wall that put him out for the day.

With less than 60 laps remaining in the race this pit stop became critical for the teams and it was Team Penske’s moment to shine and they turned out Castroneves in the top spot ahead of Franchitti, Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Rahal.
Penke’s lightening fast pit crews also brought Power back into the race equation. After struggling early in the race Power’s crew kept changing the car and making up positions in the pits and now with 50 laps left he was sitting 8th and in position to retain his point lead as it was clear Franchitti was not as fast as he once was.

Kanaan quickly dropped Franchitti to third on the restart as Castroneves was looking like the car to beat now as the laps were dwindling but then it was noticed by his team and race officials that his left rear tire was losing air. It was very visible when the car was observed on the closed circuit TV loop around the track but Castroneves was never informed as his lap speeds stayed constant.

Than on lap 195 Kanaan, who was fighting vigorously to catch Castroneves, lost control of his car coming out of the fourth turn to bring out the yellow flag for the 6th and final time of the race.

At this point Castroneves was told the pit and the bewildered driver was then told of his tire issue and he made the stop and his crew changed all four tires but he came out in 11th with 18 laps remaining.

Now free of his two nemeses Franchitti was able to pull out to a 1.7 second lead over Rahal, who also drives for Chip Ganassi but under a satellite operation to the Target team and he stayed ahead despite the later shaving off some of his lead as the race ended.
Servia recovered from his early pit woes to finish 3rd followed by Power, Danica Patrick, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Sato, Castroneves and Justin Wilson.

“That was a hell of a run today,” said Franchitti. “The first part of the race I thought I had a bit of an advantage on everybody but the conditions here, as usual are tough. It is difficult to get a balance on your car and keep it that way. It’s the same for everyone and then along comes Tony (Kanaan)! He looked really strong and he gave me a hard time as usual but racing with him is a pleasure, and absolute pleasure, just inches apart, he gives room and respect.”

Franchitti continued, “That all went away when Helio (Castroneves) joined the party, he was up to his usual blocking crap, but this time it worked for us, were good but also lucky.
This place (Milwaukee) is so tough, it is a racers track and you have to work for everything and that why it is such a delight to race here and to win here is very special.”

Talking to Rahal it seemed as though he’d won. “This means a lot for our young team,” said Rahal. “We have been qualifying poorly but having been showing progress in each and every race and to come from 12th to 2nd is a testament to how hard everyone on the team is working. I could not more proud of them and to finish second in Father’s Day with my dad here, well that is a bonus.”

Servia was excited about his podium finish, the first of the year for the Newman/Haas Racing Team. “It’s awesome,” said Servia. “We battled all race long, down but never out. We had a really fast car and our pit stops were good except for that little hiccup but we fought and finished good. The car was amazing.”
Power, who entered the race today with a 21 point lead over Franchitti, saw that all go away as the two are now tied for the lead as the series heads to Iowa next week, but was still able to optimistic after the race. “We had a good day coming from where we had to start,” said Power. “I put the guys in the hole with a poor qualifying run but we battled back all day. The restarts helped us a lot and to come in a tie for the lead is about the best that I was hoping for after the poor speed in qualifying.”

Patrick came home in fifth, he best finish of the year and praised her team for getting her the track position to claim her first top five. “This place is just so tough to pass on and it seemed that each time I came out the pits I was a few spots farther up the grid and I thank them for that. It is a great finish and hopefully we can carry that momentum on to the next race.

Race organizers always have a difficult time with a new race and those organizers who try to resurrect and old race face an even more difficult challenge, the group that undertook the task of trying to raise the oldest continuing operating race track in the country from the brink of obscurity did an excellent job. Hopefully what they did and what transpired today will bring them back again next year with a larger crowd in tow.