Random Thoughts On Milwaukee

The Milwaukee IndyFest was a success on the track and on television. Ryan Hunter-Reay won an entertaining race that was pretty much dominated by Andretti Autosport all weekend. The team placed all four of their cars in the top-five starting spots with Marco Andretti on pole. Three of the top-five spots were occupied by Andretti cars save for Marco who experienced electrical problems after leading the first sixty-one laps. Marco would finish twentieth.

The only cars in the top-five that were not Andretti cars belonged to the Team Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Will Power, who finished second and third respectively. With the win, Hunter-Reay moved into second place in the championship standings, only sixteen points behind Helio. Marco Andretti, who was the points leader after Indianapolis, now slides to third and is fifty points back. Takuma Sato is currently fourth after a seventh place finish on Saturday. Don’t look now, but Scott Dixon is quietly moving up the points ladder. He now sits in fifth on the strength of a solid sixth place finish – the best showing for Honda in Saturday’s race.

This race was typical of short track action. It doesn’t take long for the leaders to overtake backmarkers on a one-mile oval. To the dismay of those that want wheel-to-wheel action – there were only eight cars on the lead lap at the finish. On such a short track, there is something going on everywhere. Blink and you’ll miss something. Spend too much time following a battle in Turns One and Two, and you’ll miss action at the other end of the track.

Statistics show that six different drivers led this race, but realistically – it was between Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato. EJ Viso, Will Power and Justin Wilson can lay claim to having led a few laps, but the race was between the other three mentioned. Marco looked dominant early on, before being sidelined with electrical issues. Takuma Sato looked to have everything under control around the halfway point before his car became extremely loose and he had a “moment”. He recovered nicely from his near-shunt to finish seventh. That left Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose car looked as if it were from a different planet than the other tracks. He had the ability to put that car anywhere near the end of the race, which is the time that you want to find the sweet-spot of the car. To say that Andretti Autosport knows how to set up a car for Milwaukee is an understatement.

TV Coverage: Now this is how a race should be covered. Even with a couple of substitutes on hand, NBC Sports Network reminded everyone watching how it is done. With Wally Dallenbach away doing the TNT races for NASCAR, Milwaukee resident and F1 coverage regular David Hobbs filled in for Wally. If I had to find a negative it may be Hobbs. While he is great on the F1 telecasts, he seemed a little ill-prepared to speak fluently on IndyCar. Some of his comments were a little generic, meaning that they could have applied to any form of racing. I just had the impression he wasn’t quite up to speed with the rest of his colleagues regarding the IndyCar Series.

But if Hobbs was the weakest link, that tells you how strong the telecast was. Will Buxton was terrific, filling in for Marty Snider. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Buxton was made Snider’s permanent replacement – he was that good. He and Robin Miller did a “Grid Run Times Two” prior to the race. It came off much better without the down time that features Robin huffing and puffing between rows on the grid. Kevin Lee and Jon Beekhuis did their usual outstanding jobs in the pits that we’ve come to expect from them.

The regulars in the booth, Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell provided excitement and insight in a way that sounded genuine. You got the impression that they were extremely grateful to be there – unlike some other crews we’ve heard from recently. With the added enjoyment of having a qualifying show on Friday evening – all in all, it was an outstanding broadcast.

No Power outage: Will Power finally turned the corner and avoided bad luck for the entire weekend. No cars flew over the top of him. No mechanical gremlins bit him. There were no long pit stops and no one initiated a ten-car pileup by tagging him in the rear. Power didn’t win, but he did finish third for his first podium of the season. This breakthrough came at an unlikely place – a short oval, which is not necessarily his strong suit.

We almost witnessed him taking himself and his teammate out late in the race as he tried to nudge underneath Helio Castroneves, who was running second. That would not have been good and would have reeked of desperation on Power’s part. Fortunately, he didn’t try it again after Helio shut the door on him. He was mindful that his teammate needed the points to maintain the points lead. He’s also painfully aware that his championship hopes are all but done. Once the oval portion is done this summer until Fontana, there will be a string of tracks where Power will have a chance to win. It’s best that he realized where he was and he and Helio lived to fight another day…and race.

Championship mode: For the first time in his IndyCar career, Helio Castroneves might finally get his championship. He seemed happy with second because he knows how many points a high finish pays. Consistently finishing high in each race is what will earn Helio a championship. But it won’t be easy. Marco Andretti has fallen by the wayside, for now – but maybe not for long. Next week, the series returns to the site of one of his two IndyCar wins – Iowa Speedway. Not only has he won there, Marco has had several good runs at Iowa. Aside from his win there in 2011, Marco has two seconds and a third at Iowa. That’s not too shabby since the series only started racing there in 2007. Don’t expect Marco to remain fifty points behind Helio very long.

It was at Milwaukee last year that Ryan Hunter-Reay started his championship run. Milwaukee was the first of three straight victories for the popular American last season. He has now won two races this season and looks primed to battle Helio, or possibly his teammate, down to the wire. We say this every year at this time, but this is really shaping up to be an interesting championship fight.

All in all: This was a typical short track race. It didn’t feature the wheel-to-wheel excitement of what we used to see at Chicagoland or what we would normally see at Texas prior to this season. But it was another relatively clean race and there were many storylines to follow. Unlike Texas, The Milwaukee Mile puts a lot of responsibility in the driver’s hands instead of the engineers. That’s why you saw the best drivers, like Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Power, Sato, James Hinchcliffe and Dixon, rise to the top.

As I said at the beginning – this was a success on the track and on television. However, the ratings and attendance may say otherwise. The weather was pretty here and in most of the country on Saturday. I was outdoors and was really tempted to let the DVR catch the race and watch it Saturday night. Curiosity got the best of me and I ended up watching it live. But I’m a die-hard. As good as the telecast was, I’m afraid the ratings could be abysmal.

The stands did not look good either. For all of Michael Andretti’s efforts, the attendance was not great. It had rained earlier in the day at the track, and the forecast was not great. That probably affected the walk-up crowd. I would say that people need to get behind this race if they want this historic oval that always produces great racing to stay on the schedule. I would say that, but I won’t – because I have not dug into my pockets to support this race that is within a one-day drive for me. I always say I want to go to Milwaukee, but so far – I haven’t done it, so shame on me.

Michael Andretti has already said he would like to bring Milwaukee back if it can make more financial sense. In order for that to happen, they need more sponsorship and better attendance. Hopefully, he can come up with a way to make it happen. This race needs to be a permanent fixture on the IndyCar schedule.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Milwaukee”

  1. If the Milwaukee doesn’t grab you as a fan then maybe I have become a dinasaur. That was a good time and the only thing about it that I would change woul be having a seat in the stands instead of on the couch.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    I have been attending races at the Milwaukee Mile since 1949 and I am here to tell you that I have never enjoyed myself there as much as I did Saturday. The Andretti group’s pre-race promotion and their attention to detail at the event was light years ahead of any previous promoter. There were more venders, more food, more things to do for adults and children alike than ever before. The festivities inside the track make this event similar to a street race. The infield was jam packed prior to the race and many people were still there once the race started. I had a $79 grandstand ticket and I never went there because I was enjoying myself so much in the paddock area. There were a lot of children there with their parents and that is a good thing for the future of racing. Students from the Milwaukee school of Engineering were there with a race car that they build each year as part of a national contest.

    The race itself was typical short track racing. Michael Andretti commented that he had his cars setup pretty much the way his winning cars were setup during his many wins here. Marco is certainly an improved driver this year. There were some 900 plus employees of ABC supply at the race and Takuma certainly put on a good show for them.

    As for the crowd, I believe it was as good as it was last year and probably a little better. It would be great if the stands were full again as in the days of yore, but I have come to believe that at this current time that may be too much to hope for even with promotion as good as that by the Andretti group. I have already used up a lot of black space here so I won’t go into my reasons, but I don’t think it has anything to do NASCAR, the racing product (which is terrific), or the “split”. Most young people have no idea what the hell the split was anyway. Finally, I believe the crowds at Milwaukee will continue to get better, but it will be incremental improvement. In any case, THANK YOU MICHAEL ANDRETTI AND CREW!!!

    • Ron, tell it brother! I was wondering how things shaped-up for the fan at the track. Frankly, as far as stands go I thought it was OK and it was cool to see the carnival-like atmosphere in the infield (people forget that auto racing had its roots at carnivals and fairs). Milwaukee is a keeper and I can’t see this event NOT growing. Cheers to the Milwauakee Mile!

  3. Carburetor Says:

    Besides the disappointment of Marco Andretti, one has to wonder about Simona de Silvestro’s future. She has failed to show any progress despite a better powerplant this year and supposedly a better team. I was hoping for a big year–maybe not victories, or even podium finishes, but at least being solidly in the top 10 each race. It seems she has lost her ‘edge’. Too bad for the series…

    • Daniel R. Says:

      I personally never bought into Simona and thought the expectations for her this year were inflated. Tony Kanaan, Indycar and now Indy 500 champion, took years to get the KV cars to victory lane and KV is still not a consistent threat. I doubt KV ever will be. Also, besides St. Petersburg what track on the Indycar circuit has Simona consistently done well at? Disregard her Lotus year, I can’t recall a race not held in St. Petersburg where she has blown anybody away. She fortunate to have a sponsor, because I don’t think her skill level is beyond a mid-pack threat at best.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The race was what I expected it to be, and that’s good. 3-5 drivers seem to have the speed to win, and one of them avoids mistakes (Sato) and bad luck (Marco) and finds the extra gear to drive away. A good race on a track that is totally unique on the present Indycar schedule.

    Even when Will Buxton is not available, Miller’s grid run should be a 2-person operation. Cuts down on the dead air that is Robin jogging to and fro looking for people to call “kid”.
    Hobbs did not add much to the broadcast beyond his name and likable demeanor, and would probably have been roasted if his name was Scott Goodyear. However, he was a guest, and he’s David Hobbs… we all like him and his accent. Bell more than made up for anything he couldn’t tell us. The prerace feature with Bell and Hobbs lapping the Mile in a 16-cylinder Miller was amazing

    3 oval races in and we’ve seen few incidents and even less contact. Kudos to the drivers (though it makes you wonder if some are holding something back).
    Dallara must be relieved to see double-header in Toronto approaching.

  5. I loved this race. It needed to be 100 laps longer. How bad is Honda?

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Having been at the race, can anyone tell me if the TV telecast showed the driver introductions? I was standing in front of the introduction platform wondering where the hell the drivers were, when suddenly two of the platform floor panels raised up to perpendicular and-gasp-there were the drivers. It looked pretty cool in person.

  7. jhall14 Says:

    Ron Ford was right on. Andretti’s team has done a great job of promoting the race. More refreshment stands were open, those great “Cream-Puffs” were outstanding, if they just had “Custard Puffs”, that would be even better. Michael’s group is going the right direction however, the fans in the area need to come out and support the event. Even though the stands were similar to being filled, I thought there were more people there this year than last year. Interestingly enough, I do not know if there was advertising in the Chicago area for the Milwaukee Race, but I did hear advertising on the drive back home, while passing through Chicago on Sunday, for “Road America” Nascar event. I hope it sticks, I really enjoy the trip up on a Friday morning, spending 2 nights, and driving home on Sunday morning. The racing is always great as well as the action on this 1 mile oval.

  8. I attended the Milwaukee race. The track was terrific. I am sorry I waited so long to make this road trip from Cincinnati. Their was a pretty good crowd there. I would say the stands were 2/3s full. The infield activities were impressive but if you have never been to the track, you would be surprised at all the retail, restaurants, and bars along the main straight inside the track. I got there about half an hour before the Indy Lights race and there was probably 100 people in line at the ticket window. The weather report was fine, with rain early in the morning but gone by 11:00. It looked like major success to me.

    I cannot imagine that after what I saw this past Saturday with the facility and the race that anyone would let this race end. It was a good crowd, with so much to do. The race itself was a joy. Anyone who loves Indy car has got to make it a point of getting to this race.

  9. Ballyhoo Says:

    I have to agree wtih John that the race and the overall atmostphere looked like such fun, at least from my living room. It did remind me of a county fair. I hope that Michael Andretti will continue to support this event. What do you all think about the possiblity of Road America coming back in 2014. Robin Miller had an article yesterday talking about it on Speed. Two weekends in a row within driving distance (tho, not for me) might be fun and a big plus for the series.

    I too enjoyed having my NBC crew back. Am sorry we are stuck with ABC this weekend and sorrier they will be broadcasting soon from Pocono, but at least that will be the final ABC race. David Hobbs is such a class act, but I agree that Townsend did a marvelous (and better) job with his commentary. Hobbo and Bell in the Miller, not that was a wow moment! I have enjoyed the grid runs since their inception. Dan Wheldon and Robin were such a great pair!

    Here’s to a good race weekend in Iowa!

  10. With ABC, fans feel as though the broadcasters have lacked energy while calling the race and have also observed that the production value, including sound effects, have been little underwhelming. And while most are satisfied with NBC’s treatment of the sport, it remains dreadfully difficult for casual observers to find on the dial.

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