New IndyFest date and title sponsor (Tony DiZinno)

ABC Supply Co. steps up for Milwaukee IndyFest, which moves to August

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Milwaukee’s IndyCar date is switching from June to August, and welcomes back an old friend as title sponsor.

ABC Supply Co., locally based in West Allis, will step up to sponsor the newly renamed ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, part of the Milwaukee IndyFest weekend, for the next two years.

In 2014, the date will be August 16-17, as part of a three-race culmination to the IndyCar season. West coast races in Sonoma and Fontana, Calif., will follow as the series seeks to end by Labor Day weekend.

The importance from a local standpoint is twofold: the race has a title sponsor for the first time since 2009, when ABC Supply Co. last sponsored the race (it did so from 2005 to 2009), and secondly, it will give the near-million Wisconsin State Fair patrons exposure to the event that will be occurring after the Fair ends.

“It’s important strategically,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., parent company of INDYCAR. “Following State Fair will give us a chance to tell the million or so people our race is coming up in a couple weeks. We think a unique feature of IndyCar is the diversity of our racing, different tracks, street, road, ovals and different kinds of ovals. We love the idea of having a historic oval as part of that. Eventually we’re looking at an oval, a street and a road course – our three major formats – at the end of the year.”

Indy Lights and Pro Mazda are also on the calendar, as they were this year. Tickets for the family-friendly weekend go on sale Nov. 13, available online at www.milwaukeeindyfest.com.

Milwaukee had been run on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend in June 2012 and 2013 since Michael Andretti’s Andretti Sports Marketing group resuscitated the race from life support. Miles said in a later interview this afternoon that the June date would “maybe” have still been considered had the other ASM-promoted race, Baltimore, remained on the 2014 calendar in what would have been an earlier August date.

As for whether the week after the Indianapolis 500 was considered, Milwaukee’s old traditional date, Miles answered with a definitive “no” – that date is locked in Detroit for the foreseeable future.

Andretti said the bigger issue with Milwaukee the last two years was actually having it on Father’s Day weekend.

“It wasn’t the problem for our staff; we have two separate arms,” he explained. “It was a little bit of a challenge having the race on Father’s Day weekend. People have other family plans. So now it’s a real positive from the standpoint to be one of the last three races of the season.”

However for Andretti, it now provides a singular focus for the ASM promotional arm. The group is exploring other opportunities – either race or corporate-related – down the road to replace Baltimore.

Miles has sought a more condensed calendar – all will be revealed tomorrow night, 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN – and considers breaks something of a necessary evil. But had Milwaukee stayed in its June date, that would have meant six consecutive weeks of on-track activity beginning with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course race on May 10.

“I wish we didn’t need a break!” he said, candidly. “For fans, appointment viewing is a big deal. If you know every week where to look, that’s a really good thing. But that’s impractical for our racing. There will be breaks. When you see the calendar, we’ve condensed our racing about to the point we can. The crews will get their necessary downtime.”

The other question, as always, is whether the dream of Road America will turn to reality. For now, it remains just that: a dream.

It’s definitively out for 2014 and possible, but still unlikely, in 2015. It remains the biggest pipe dream for IndyCar drivers, teams and fans, but will always be off the schedule so long as dates and sanctioning fees don’t work out – the last Champ Car race there was in 2007.

What it does present, however, is a Wisconsin doubleheader for fans of both road and oval racing in 2014. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races at Road America Sunday, August 10, with IndyCars on the historic Mile one week later.

And that, regardless of your preference of racing, is still something to celebrate.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.