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HUNTER-REAY MAKES IT TWO IN A ROW AT MILWAUKEE
Photo by Roy Schmidt
Photo by Roy Schmidt
June 16th 2013 -
By:  Mark W. Theisen | WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 15, 2013:  In a race that had three distinct segments with three different cars dominant at a specific portion of the race it came down to a little bit of luck and a solid car in the final segment for Ryan Hunter-Reay to successfully defend his Milwaukee IndyFest 250 win of last year over Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

     Driving for Andretti Autosports Hunter-Reay handed his team owner Michael Andretti, whose Andretti Sports Marketing arm is also the promoter of the race, his second straight win in the event as well as three of the four Andretti cars entered in the race finishing in the top five.

     Again this year the "fest” theme was used to market the event to a community and state that have grown accustomed to the festival atmosphere that surrounds Summerfest and the many ethnic festivals that precede and follow that event throughout the summer.  And again, as last year, it was evident that the promotion is building steam as the crowd "looked” to be an increase over last’s year inaugural event with the festival based theme of giving the fans many diversions to occupy their day at the race track throwing in an exciting race for good measure.

     Michael Andretti’s son, Marco won the pole starting position for the race yesterday afternoon with a qualifying speed of 170.515 miles-per-hour over the flat one mile oval that makes up the Milwaukee Mile at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway.  The qualifying format for Milwaukee featured two laps with the speed being an average of the two laps.  James Hinchcliffe qualified second, Hunter-Reay fourth and E.J. Viso fifth all in Andretti Autosports cars.  Power broke up the group by qualifying third in his Roger Penske owned car as Chevrolet powered cars took the top seven starting positions in qualifying for the race.

     Marco Andretti thus positioned himself to follow his grandfather, Mario and father Michael as winners on the Milwaukee Mile and he wasted little time at the start of the race jumping ahead of Hinchcliffe and almost immediately began pulling away.

     Two early cautions wiped out Marco Andretti’s leads, one on lap 21 when Simona de Silvestro spun and clipped the Safer Barrier in turn 4 and on lap 27 when Alex Tagliani spun  also in turn 4.  Several cars running at the tail end of the field choose to make early pit stops in hoping that the extra fuel and fresher tires would play into their hands later in the race.

     On each restart Marco Andretti would jump away but as the laps progressed his handling went away and allowed the rest of the field to close back up on him and on lap 62 Hunter-Reay made the first on track pass for the lead in the race as the first round of green flag pit stops were about to begin.

     When Marco Andretti made his top his crew had difficulty in removing the fuel line from the filler nozzle on the car and the extended time in the pit cost him track position at the conclusion of the first round of stops.

     Power led laps 67 and 68 before making his stop and that gave the lead to Takuma Sato driving A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply Honda powered Dallara.  Sato was one of eight drivers that had made pit stops during either of the first two cautions and that strategy paid off bringing him to the front followed by Castroneves and Dario Franchitti.

     Sato was then able to keep is car in front for the next 21 laps until he had to make his first green flag pit stop giving the lead to Justin Wilson and then Viso just as the caution came out for the third time in the race when Marco Andretti came to a halt on the backstretch on lap 98 the victim of an electrical system failure.

     This sent all the cars back into the pits putting everyone back on the same pit sequence with Sato’s team turning him out ahead of the field for the restart.

     The failure on Marco Andretti’s car was doubly costly, not only did he loose his opportunity for a win he also ground in his quest for his first IZOD Indy Car Series championship.  Marco Andretti came into Milwaukee trialing Castroneves by 22 and despite his crew being able to fix the problem and get him back on the track he wound up finishing 20th losing one position in the standings.

     Once the race was back under green Sato checked out and looked like the driver to beat but the longer his car went into a run or "stint” the handling would gradually go away allowing the rest of the field to catch back up.

     Sato led for the next 56 laps before the next round of pit stops began to unfold.  Hunter-Reay, Viso and Power all took turns in the lead before pitting but when the series was over it was Sato again in front with one more pit stop facing all the contending teams with 82 laps remaining.

     As before Sato had not trouble in building the lead but then he slid high out of the racing rove on lap 192 allowing the field to close in on him with Hunter-Reay overtaking him for the lead on lap 198.  

     Five laps later Sato would head for the pits, his team taking a gamble by pitting ahead of the rest of the field but needing to know if any harm to his tires was done when he nearly brushed the wall, and when the stop was complete Sato was back out in 9th, place, a lap down, but with the rest of the cars on the lead lap needing to make their final pit.

     If it played out as hoped Sato would have back in the lead but then the caution came out on lap 211 when Ana Beatriz spun in the fourth turn allowing the rest of the field to make their stop under yellow.  Sato got back on the lead lap when the rest pitted but he was still mired in 8th on the restart.

     When the green came out on lap 219 Hunter-Reay checked out on the field leaving Castroneves and Power to fight for second with the pair staging a heated battle the final laps with Castroneves winning out to build his point lead in the series.

     Scott Dixon finished sixth with Sato making up a few spots in the final laps to take the seventh spot despite leading a race high 109 laps.

     Hunter-Reay became only the second driver this season to win more than one race and he did so by being patient with a car whose handling characteristics changed throughout the day.

     "We just had to be patient,” said Hunter-Reay, who with today’s win became a three time winner at Milwaukee.  "We had varying degrees of grip today, different levels of balance, but we just stuck with it the whole race and it all paid off.  Our crew did an awesome job, as usual, and here we are again back in victory lane at Milwaukee.”

     It was an especially sweet moment as Hunter-Reay, who used his win at Milwaukee a year ago to propel him to three more series wins and the 2012 IZOD Indy Car Series title, was able to greet his new son born six months ago in victory lane on the day before Father’s Day.  "The last two laps I was thinking man I had to do this for him, this is very special.”

     Castroneves, whose 2013 season has been one of consistence, was happy by finishing second after qualifying 17th with a bad handling car yesterday.  "Our Penke guys changed the whole car overnight,” said Castroneves.  "It drove perfect today but we still needed help and it can with the early pit stop to get that track position that we lacked going into the race.  When we were up front in clean air the car just handled better.  From where I started this is almost as good as a win.”

     Power, who is still looking for his first 2013 victory, was pensive about his effort.  "We’re doing better and getting closer,” said Power.  "I’m stoked to get on the podium for the fist time this year and that is a good omen.”

     About racing his teammate, Castroneves, who’s in the championship point lead so tight at the end Power said, "I would not do anything to jeopardize a teammate.  I saw him (Castroneves) check up for a lapped car and just went underneath him.  When I saw I could not make the pass, I just backed out so as not to take us both out.”

     "What an eventful and exciting race it was,” said Sato.  "Our car was so good in clean air, but you could se that in all the cars.  I hurt the tires and then the caution and we were done, it was shame.  The crew did such a good job.”

     Andretti Autosports recorded their 5th win at Milwaukee in the last nine years to show that the organization has really mastered the Milwaukee Mile.  The win was also the team’s 4th in 2013 as Hinchcliffe has two to not go along with Hunter-Reays wins.  Hunter-Reay became the first driver since Tony Kanaan in 2006-2007 to win two in a row at Milwaukee.

     Castroneves takes a 16 point lead over Hunter-Reay into next weeks Indy Car Series race in Iowa with Marco Andretti in third 50 points behind.

     In the other race of the day at the Mile Sage Karam won his first Firestone Indy Lights race by passing Zach Veach on lap 56 and then holding on through a late race restart to edge Carlos Munoz for his breakthrough win.

     Karam became the third first time winner in 2013 in the series and the fourth different winner in five races and he moved into second in the championship standings 18 points behind Munoz who was driving the Firestone Indy Lights series out of the Andretti Autosports shop.

     On Friday afternoon Matthew Brabham, also a third generation driver won the Pro Mazda Championship 90 lap race over Juan Piedrahita and Spencer Pigot in a series that is a stepping stone to Indy Lights and then on to the Indy Car series.

     All of the "amenities” that went along with the Milwaukee IndyFest:  the carnival midway, the beer garden, the food tents and trailers, the rickshaw race and rides and the Indy Fan Zone all still pale to the action on the track.  Although the Andretti cars came out on top again it was an open race for all and exciting to watch.  When cars race at 170 miles-per-hour plus on a mile track the action is everywhere and all the drivers did an outstanding job.  I hope, in the end, the event was profitable enough for the Andretti group to bring it back again.