Let’s face it, last week’s race in Texas was a bit lacking in action. Drivers trying to keep their cars out of the wall and tyres under the car doesn’t make for an exciting race on TV, though it probably makes for an excessively exciting night in the cockpit. Fortunately, the series’ trip to Milwaukee produced a bit more action that ended with Ryan Hunter-Reay scoring his second straight win on the Milwaukee Mile.
The race looked like it was going to be an all Andretti Autosport affair after qualifying when the race started with all four Andretti cars qualifying in the top five spots. Marco Andretti scored the pole and used it to take the early lead.
Unlike in Texas, passing was definitely not at a premium but space sure was. On the start, the Andretti cars of Marco, James Hinchcliffe and RHR went three-wide into Turn One with Hinch having to cede his position to keep all the cars in one piece. This was the story of the race as drivers were very aggressive in battling for room to make a pass and with the chops to defend.
Andretti looked set to walk away with this first win of the season but a refuelling problem on Lap 68 delayed him in the pits. On Lap 98, all hopes of a Marco win on the historic Milwaukee track ended abruptly when his car ground to a halt with a race-ending electrical fault.
After Marco’s retirement, off-sequence pit strategies allowed Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves up to the front of the pack. Sato dominated the next segment of the race, leading for 57 laps before giving way to Hunter-Reay before his second-to-last stop.
As pitstops cycled through, it was Sato back out front. However, being slightly off-sequence meant that he was the first leader to stop. When he came in to make his final pitstop with 50 laps to go, he was caught a lap down when Ana Beatriz spun to bring out the day’s final caution with 40 to go. The rest of the leaders had yet to make their final stops which meant that Sato had to take the wave-around and restart last on the lead lap.
The big beneficiary was Ryan Hunter-Reay who took the lead prior to Sato’s stop and held it through pitstops under yellow. He stormed away from the field while battles raged on behind him. None was more exciting than the battle for 2nd between Penske teammates Castroneves and Will Power who were wheel-to-wheel with just a couple of laps to go before Helio was just able to keep his edge over his teammate.
The win was Hunter-Reay’s second of the season. Last year, Milwaukee was his first win of the season and launched his title charge. This year, things are so wide-open that he might not need a hot streak but just consistency to win the title. Helio Castroneves finished 2nd but still saw his championship lead shrink from 22 points over Marco to 16 over RHR. Will Power finished in third to complete the podium after running near the front for most of the day.
Two more Andretti cars finished rounded out the top five with E.J. Viso and James Hinchcliffe rounding out what was largely a very successful day for Andretti Autosport. Scott Dixon was the highest finishing Honda car on the day in 6th. Takuma Sato’s pit stop timing may have been all that stood between him and a win but the result was only a 7th on a day that could’ve been so much more. Dario Franchitti was the last car on the lead lap in 8th. Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top ten in 9th and 10, respectively.
After the last race, Helio Castroneves’ #3 Penske team was fined $35,000 and penalized 15 entrant (owner’s) points for a technical infraction with the underwing. The height of the underwing on Helio’s car was 7.575″ rather than the regulation 7.6″.
The irony is that the rules infraction actually made Helio’s car harder to drive. The reduced height of the underwing actual meant that the car had less downforce and more drag than if they had met the regulations with the underwing. In fact, the underwing exit height has a tolerance of +0.050″ so if Penske had gone the other way with Helio’s underwing, the car would have performed even better and utterly trounced the field.
A couple of familiar faces were back in the car this weekend after a brief hiatus. Panther Racing had Ryan Briscoe back in the car this weekend in between his time in Le Mans. Briscoe’s sports car commitments required him in Le Mans for last week’s test and next week’s race. Oriol Servia will be back in the car next weekend.
Over at Dale Coyne Racing, the revolving door in the #18 car continued this week. Ana Beatriz was back in the car after taking a couple of weeks off with Mike Conway and Pippa Mann substituting. Whether this is a permanent return to the seat or just temporary has yet to be confirmed.
IndyCar continues to market itself to the younger crowd through licensing agreements with popular video games. While the other big series like F1 and NASCAR have their own games, IndyCar hasn’t had one since sometime in the last decade.
After appearing in May’s Grid 2 by Codemasters, it was revealed at E3 (the gaming industry’s biggest annual convention and trade show) that cars from the IndyCar Series will appear in the upcoming Xbox One game Forza Motorsport 5. Forza is the leading racing franchise on the Xbox consoles so this will massively grow IndyCar’s exposure.
Four of IndyCar’s biggest teams will be represented, including Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and Rahal. So far, only Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car has been confirmed to appear in the game. Any promotion is good promotion for the IndyCar Series so even if it’s only a select few teams in the game, it beats no one getting that level of exposure to a non-IndyCar fan audience.
The 2013 IndyCar Series season continues next weekend as we reach the end of the stretch of five race meetings in five weeks. The Iowa Indy 250 is the only proper short-track oval left on the IndyCar schedule after Richmond was dropped after putting everyone to sleep.
Once again, the race will feature qualifying races to determine the order of the field. This year, the format has been changed from three eight-car races based on practice fields. The qualifying races will be set based on single-lap qualifying. The even-numbered qualifiers from 8th on back will be in one race while odd-numbered qualifiers will be in the other. The top two finishers in those races will transfer to the third qualifying heat which will feature the top six qualifiers and four transfer drivers to set the top ten on the starting grid. Points will be awarded to the top 12 qualifiers (presumably 12 to include the final podium finisher in the first two qualifying heats).
Only two teams have won the race at Iowa. Currently, Andretti Autosport holds a four to two advantage over Ganassi on the seven-eighths of a mile oval. It may be advantage Ganassi as Dario Franchitti is the only driver who has won multiple times in Iowa. But as Ryan Hunter-Reay won the race last year, another back-to-back wouldn’t surprise me from the defending series champ.