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Author: Mark W. Theisen
June 16th 2012 - WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 16, 2012: One thing the new Dallara DW-12 chassis has done this year is put the “driving” back into the IZOD IndyCar series and that fact was very evident this afternoon at the Milwaukee Mile as it took sheer driving ability and stamina to persevere and win and in the end it was Ryan Hunter-Reay picking up his second career win on the Mile as he beat Tony Kanaan by three seconds in an exciting and hard fought event.
The IZOD IndyCar series returned to Wisconsin State Fair Park this year after Andretti Sports Marketing took on the tremendous challenge of trying to rebuild the historic event after years of poor promotion efforts had nearly doomed the event.
The Andretti groups made so many promises that many were skeptical that it all would happen but happen it did! From and infield filled with many activities for young and old to a concert after the race all was delivered as promised and nearly everyone I spoke to was happy. Not even a one and one-half hour rain delay at the start of the day could dampen the spirits of those on hand and the stands, while not full, looked like a very good start to a return to credibility of this event.
Qualifying yesterday saw defending series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 mile winner Dario Franchitti put his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara on the pole as 6 drivers were assessed 10-grid spot penalties for unapproved engine changes following last weeks race in Texas. This penalty meant that a car qualifying 10th would start 20th and so on. This put series point leader Will Power and number two Scott Dixon deep in the field for the start of the race to add a little “spice” for the fans to watch as these two would work their way up through the field.
The rains that began to fall a half hour prior to the scheduled 12:30 P.M. start lasted forty –minutes and then the sun and humidity returned allowing the track to be dried and ready for a start albeit some 100 minutes late.
Franchitti brought the 25 starters down for the start and was in the lead going into turn one but the new DW-12 Dallara has brought the field much closer this year and the series has become more of handling or “racers” event than a flat-out speed event. This was evident that while leading the first 63 laps of the race Franchitti was not able to put any real distance between him and Hunter-Reay who remained in second as Helio Castroneves settled in to third as the first round of pit stops commenced on lap 60.
Just as Franchitti pulled into the pits Simona de Silvestro spun in the third turn on lap 67 to bring out the first caution of the race. Castroneves used the yellow to make his stop after leading three laps giving the lead to James Hinchcliffe before he made his stop. When the pit stops cycled through it was E.J. Viso in front having made his stop early in the sequence. He was followed by his teammate Rubens Barrichello on the lap 79 restart.
Extra time was taken during this caution to sweep the track of tire debris or “marbles” as several of the drivers were having difficulty maneuvering through the high groove because of the condition.
Last week’s winner in Texas, Justin Wilson, pulled off the track in turn one on lap 94 and his car erupted in fire to bring out caution number and this sent all the leaders into the pits once again except for Castroneves, whose team elected to begin a fuel conservation strategy at this juncture of the race after observing other teams not getting as good mileage.
Dixon, who had worked his way masterfully up through the field, was in the top five on the restart and was making his moves as his teammate, Franchitti, was going the other way after dominating the first quarter of the race. Stuck in traffic and turbulence for cars around he was unable to recover the form that led the to the early race dominance.
Takuma Sato and James Jakes made contact in the second turn on lap 109 then both spun striking the SAFER Barrier just as JR Hildebrand pulled his car off the track in the third turn, a victim of overheating. These both contributed to the third yellow of the race.
On the lap 122 restart it was Castroneves ahead of Hunter-Reay and Dixon with Viso and Alex Tagliani right behind. Two laps into the restart series officials assessed a drive thru penalty on Dixon for passing before the green flag came on the lap 103 restart, a penalty that, even after the race, Dixon could not understand and it took away any chance he had at a win after starting so far back in the field and doing such a solid driver to get to the top three.
“They waived off the restart on lap 102 when the 3 (Castroneves) started early,” said Dixon, “then they said I did the same a lap later, well all the cars slowed in front of me and I had to get out of line to avoid hitting them and I’m the one that gets the penalty. It is difficult to understand when some the drivers are not up the pace car speed on the restart.”
Castroneves now in full fuel conservation mode began to slow on the track to save the fuel he needed to make one more stop in the race compared to the two that the rest would and this allowed Hunter-Reay to close in and take the lead on lap 142 and soon Viso, Tagliani, and Barrichello all got around the former leader before he made his pit stop on lap 153. When he came out of the pits he was 17th in the field as others began making their green flag stops.
Hunter-Reay pitted on lap 172 but only lost the lead for that lap to Viso who pitted the following lap giving the top spot back to Hunter-Reay who now held a 6.8519 second lead over Castroneves with the latter finished with his stops for the race but Hunter-Reay and the rest were iffy on fuel.
All that strategy went away on lap 182 when a light sprinkle in the third turn put the race under its fourth caution. This allowed not only Castroneves to save fuel but the rest of the field as well. Franchitti and Dixon both stopped for tires but on the restart Franchitti rubbed real wheels with Ryan Briscoe and that caused a lock up of the rear differential a lap later and Franchitti found himself in the 3rd turn wall and out of the race.
Hunter-Reay paced himself the final 50 laps of the race and won easily over Kanaan, Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia and Viso as Chevrolet powered cars swept the top five positions and 8 of the top ten. After dominating the first four races of the year the Bow-Tie Brigade had slipped the past two events but returned to the pinnacle today.
“This was work today,” said jubilant Hunter-Reay in victory circle. “This was the most physical race I’ve been in. These cars are a handful to drive and that what makes it so good and so competitive. You have to stay on top of the car all race long, save your tires as long as you can and the go.”
Hunter-Reay, who won in 2004 here, pulled his car down on the front apron after the race expecting to go the place victory circle was in the past only to realize that it was in a completely different place now and he gladly followed the directions to the new spot to park his Andretti Autosports owned car.
“This is a special win for us,” continued Hunter-Reay. “Michael (Andretti) is not only the promoter here with another company, he is our owner and to give him a win in his race is very special. This was a total effort today, my team, my teammate, everyone put their soul into to this one and it paid off.”
It is not often you hear someone say he is happy with second but that is what Kanaan had to stay after the race. “I had nothing for Ryan (Hunter-Reay),” said Kanaan. “I lost speed during the early part of the race so I could not save fuel. I had to run wide-open fuel wise to keep up and I had to drive hard. I’m tired but happy, today second is not such a bad thing.”
Hinchcliffe, who also drives for Andretti Autosport finished third and echoed the team work mentality of Hunter-Reay. “My guys gave me great stops a couple positions picked up each stop and then at the end, I’m there,” said Hinchcliffe. “Early on the track was too green with only one groove, but then the second groove came in and I was able to pass a few cars. The tires today were only good for a short while so we had to make the most improvements with each new set and the longer you drove on old tires it was tougher on you. The good thing, everyone else is dealing with the same circumstances and that makes for good racing.”
For the second time in three races Servia came out of know where to take a top five spot. “Maybe we should just stay in the hotel until race day,” said Servia. “We were way off yesterday qualifying 20th but the car came to me again today and that is a credit to how hard the crew works.”
Power never got on track finishing 12th but still goes into next weeks race in Iowa with a 31 point lead over Hinchcliffe who took over the runner-up spot from Dixon who fell to 3rd now 34 points out of the lead.
Tristan Vautier won Saturday’s Firestone Indy Lights race over Sebastain Saavedra for his second win of the year in the series.
Andretti Sports Marketing assumed control of the race on February 10th of this year and did a remarkable job in putting together a great experience of the fans and as he spoke prior to the start of the race he announced that the race would return in 2013 to a thunderous round of applause from those here today.
“We weren’t kidding ourselves, we knew this wasn’t something that was going to change overnight,” said Andretti. “We felt like if we did a really good event this year and displayed it well that the skeptics are going to be the ones to hear how great the event was and we’ll get them to come next year.”
Well Andretti his marketing team and the drivers delivered, now those that were here, get the word out and bring a few friend next year!