Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates his second win at the Milwaukee Mile. [Mark Walczak Photo]
Hunter-Reay Breezes To Victory At Milwaukee Mile
by John Wiedemann
West Allis, WI - Clean air was key at the Milwaukee Mile today for the Milwaukee IndyFest 225 and Ryan Hunter-Reay used it, leading the final eighty-four laps on his way to victory.
"That was so much work," said Hunter-Reay. "You are just always on edge. You got to push and push. 225 laps around here feels like a 500-mile race. The last few laps were a lot of fun, just opening the lead, counting down the number of laps."
Surviving two restarts while leading, Hunter-Reay was able to pull away from the field each time on his way to and capping a successful weekend for the new race promoter at the Milwaukee Mile who happens to also be his car owner, Michael Andretti.
"I didn't really like the restarts. I would rather it had just gone green," said Hunter-Reay. "You can't always get your way."
Andretti almost got his way this weekend. After a great start to the event on Friday with great weather, storm clouds threatened the race.
"It was unbelievable how smooth it was," said Andretti about the days prior to the event. "There was not one hiccup anywhere, in operations or anything. Then also the whole week you're seeing the weather forecast at the time was looking really good."
But, the storm did come and the command for drivers to start their engines by Andretti was delayed by about an hour and a half after the rain shower passed over the track just prior to its initially scheduled start.
When the green flag finally flew, polesitter Dario Franchitti jumped to the lead in turn one followed by Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves.
With Hunter-Reay and Castroneves in tow, Franchitti led the first sixty-three laps until he pitted for fuel and tires. While the rest of the field was in the middle of making their first pit stops, Simona de Silvestro spun in turn three and made contact with the wall.
During the resulting caution, the leaders pitted for tires and fuel. EJ Viso stayed out and assumed the lead and resulting clean air from being at the front of the pack.
Viso led the next twenty-seven laps until the caution flag flew when Justin Wilson's engine let go. Leaders again pitted, with the exception of Castroneves who stayed out to assume the lead.
The first restart was waved off when the field broke up coming out of the fourth turn. Castroneves led Viso and Alex Tagliani for the next six laps when the caution flag flew again. While JR Hildebrand slowed on the backstraight after his engine overheated, James Jakes and Takuma Sato made contact sending both of them spinning into the turn two wall and out of the race. While Jakes blamed Sato's driving style for the incident, Sato had another story.
"We were side by side into turn one and I was kind of boxed in," said Sato. "The track was so slippery. The car started sliding and we ran out of space. It is really a shame."
Back to green, Castroneves pulled away with the lead and another bit of drama took place.
IndyCar officials decided to penalize Scott Dixon for the jumping previous restart that was waved off, which happened twenty laps prior. Competitors later agreed that Dixon was in the wrong but did not agree with the punishment.
"What I don't get is they threw the yellow," explained James Hinchcliffe about the restart issue. "He didn't do it again when it went green. Either leave the green and penalize him or start the yellow."
"If the wave it off, he should not have gotten the penalty," agreed Tony Kanaan.
But Dixon was penalized and forced to perform a "drive through penalty" driving down pit lane while the field sped away under green.
Castroneves continued to lead while Hunter-Reay stalked him on fresher tires. On lap 142 Castroneves tires started to give up grip, Hunter-Reay closed in and made the pass for the lead in turn three.
Two more caution periods would bunch the field back up. The first one was for moisture around the track, which cleared up as the field slowed on the track for ten laps. Four laps later, Franchitti lost control of his Honda in turn three and made heavy contact with the outside wall.
Hunter-Reay held the lead going back to green, now with Kanaan on his tail. But Hunter-Reay was able to pull away with his Chevrolet and took the checkers five second ahead of second place Kanaan.
Hinchcliffe passed Oriol Servia for third with nine laps remaining in the race and held on for his second podium finish of the season. Servia held on to fourth, his third top-five finish in the last four races. Viso finished fifth, his best finish of the season.
Andretti deemed the event a success and announced that the race will return to the Milwaukee Mile next season.
Kanaan had a different idea. Based on his continued success at the track he asked, "Can we race here again, that race that is missing?" referring to the cancelled China event.
That probably won't happen but tickets will go on sale for the 2013 race starting tomorrow, Sunday June 17th.