New IndyFest date and title sponsor (Tony DiZinno)

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


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

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 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.