We’ll get the historical disclaimer out of the way first: INDYCAR (then IRL) first raced at The Milwaukee Mile in 2004, but the track’s history itself is substantially longer. After all, it is the oldest continually operating speedway in North America, after opening in 1903.
Drivers in this year’s Milwaukee IndyFest have history at the track dating back to 1996 – Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves made their first starts at the legendary one-mile oval in the Indy Lights race there that year. Dario Franchitti made his Milwaukee debut in the CART race there in 1997.
But in IRL, then INDYCAR-sanctioned races, only teams from the IZOD IndyCar Series’ generally accepted “Big three” teams – Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing – have won races at the Mile.
Champ Car did run concurrently at the track from 2004 to 2006, with wins taken by Ryan Hunter-Reay (his second of his career, first on an oval), Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais in those three seasons. Bourdais’ win for Newman/Haas is the last at Milwaukee outside the Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi stables.
Franchitti took the first IRL-sanctioned win in 2004, a career-rejuvenating first win since a back injury suffered in 2003 cost him the second half of that season. Sam Hornish Jr. won in 2005 for Penske, with Tony Kanaan scoring each of the next two wins for Andretti in 2006 and 2007.
Ryan Briscoe scored his first ever, and Penske’s 300th as an organization, win in 2008. Target Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the next two Milwaukee races (Scott Dixon in 2009, Franchitti in 2011), although 2010 the track was temporarily closed as it went through financial straits.
Things came right for Hunter-Reay last year, scoring his second Milwaukee win in the first race promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing.
This year is a pivotal one for the race as it marks the first time in five years that the same promoter has done the event in consecutive years; a second successive win for “RHR” or one by one of his three Andretti Autosport teammates would look good.
ASM is also batting a perfect two-for-two in races it has promoted, as Hunter-Reay won not only Milwaukee but also Baltimore last year.
You’ll notice Castroneves’ name has been decidedly absent from this piece to this point. Milwaukee’s been something of a bogey track for him, and he has yet to better a runner-up finish set in his rookie season of CART, in 1998!
Castroneves – and the rest of the field outside the “Big three” – will be looking to topple the empire that has thus far reined over Milwaukee in the last decade.