Milwaukee IndyFest goes down smoothly, drama-free for IndyCar

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Something weird happened at the IZOD IndyCar Series’ weekend at The Milwaukee Mile. It was just a pure race that went down as smooth as a cold Spotted Cow.

IndyCar is in a mad stretch of six races in five weekends. The Indianapolis 500 kicked it off, followed by the doubleheader in Detroit, the lone 1.5-miler this year in Texas, the lone one-miler in Milwaukee this weekend and next week, the 0.875-miler in Iowa.

Indy has the month-long hoopla before the race. Detroit featured something new with the doubleheader concept and a press conference discussing the “infamous aero kits.” Texas was, by most accounts including this author’s, disappointing compared to the package showcased in 2012 and, in the eyes of some, a wasted opportunity for a prime-time network broadcast.

So with this weekend’s race in Milwaukee featuring no extra drama, no sidebar press conferences or tweets and none of the drivers bitching about anything except traffic – which you’d expect given its history and tight quarters – it was a refreshing tonic from the usual madness that often comes as a side dish on an IndyCar weekend.

“To me it was typical Milwaukee. It’s all about traffic,” said Michael Andretti, event promoter and winning car owner for Ryan Hunter-Reay. “Without traffic you normally don’t have passing here. That’s been since when I started racing here. That’s what makes it exciting, is having a car that works in traffic. That’s what won the race, to be honest with you.”

“Well, certainly Milwaukee Mile always gave a fantastic race,” said runner-up and IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves. “I don’t remember a time that there was a very difficult one. Probably a long time ago in CART times, Champ Car times.

“Right now I feel on the one-mile oval, but also the one-and-a-half-mile oval, we have a good package. We still remember like the side-by-side and things like that. Before side-by-side, it was this style of racing. I think it’s even more fun.”

“If the fans knew how hard we were having to push, they did a good job with televising it, telling the story, catching all the passes in the middle of the pack, it would look like a great race,” added his Team Penske teammate Will Power.

“I just think, like Helio said, when we used to go to Texas, it was pack racing, the leader would stay on the white line, wide open, there would be guys right behind him wide open and never pass. Is that talent?  No. Your grandma could jump in and do it.”

From an on-the-ground perspective, you can tell the effort Andretti’s Andretti Sports Marketing group has put into this race, now having had a full year to promote the event as opposed to the last-minute assembling of the 2012 race (race in June, announced in February).

A packed infield provides a ton of options for families. The racing is close and captivating from the grandstands, and translated well thanks to the broadcast effort by the entire NBC Sports Network team.

As Andretti said afterwards, those who took the weather forecast as gospel earlier in the week missed out.

“The last few days definitely hurt us with the forecast. It was a real shame because in the end, look at the sun shining,” he said. “I’m thinking it kept some people home and they’re going to be sorry they were home because it was such a great event.”

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Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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