It could be déjà vu all over again for Hunter-Reay with Milwaukee repeat

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He’s not as far back in the championship standings as he was this time last year, but Ryan Hunter-Reay has the opportunity to repeat his second half surge thanks to his second straight win at the Milwaukee IndyFest.

He’s the first to pull off that feat in the IZOD IndyCar Series at the Milwaukee Mile since Tony Kanaan in 2006-’07.  For that matter, he’s also the only driver to win an Andretti Sports Marketing-promoted event – he is three-for-three with two wins in Milwaukee and one at Baltimore last fall.

Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 1 DHL/Sun Drop Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport, entered Milwaukee a year ago seventh in the championship, 75 points behind then-series leader Will Power. His win and Power’s 12th-place finish at the 2012 race promoted him to fourth, just 41 points back.

Of course, it also set the stage for his run of three straight victories from Milwaukee to the next short oval a week later in Iowa, and a third triumph on the streets of Toronto.

“In sports, when you get into a momentum, a rhythm, it’s not something you can put a price tag on or finger on, it just happens,” he said. “It kind of saturates the team with this feeling that, Hey, we can get it done.  If we perform to our best, to our potential, we can absolutely win races.

“That carried over week in, week out. We were able to win four more races than anybody else last year. It all started here last year. This is a great place to start. Andretti has great cars.  You put the two together, and hopefully it comes out the way we want.”

Hunter-Reay has improved his qualifying this year to match his race pace (starts of eighth or better in all nine races, including seven top-four starts). He was due another win after podiums at Indianapolis and the first Detroit race since his win at Barber in April.

This race was actually shaping up as a battle between Hunter-Reay and teammate E.J. Viso in the race’s first 100 laps. But a caution for their third teammate, Marco Andretti, being stopped on track, promoted Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves up the leaderboard thanks to their off-sequence strategies.

“We were setting the pace of the race early,” Hunter-Reay said. “The yellow came out. I’m not sure for what. Maybe it was for Marco. That shuffled us back into the field a bit, which put some of the guys off strategy, Helio, Takuma, etc., into the lead.”

“Yeah, E.J. is always very good here,” he added. “I saw him coming up from behind about halfway through the race.  I knew it was going to be tough. I thought it was going to be between him and I at the end. He was very strong. We really seemed to click getting through traffic at the end of the race better than anybody.”

Hunter-Reay also appreciates the history of Milwaukee, the oldest active race track in North America.

“Every time I have the opportunity to race here, I feel blessed,” he said. “Such a challenging place. When you get it right, there’s no better feeling in IndyCar than at Milwaukee Mile. Indianapolis definitely is right there with it, but this place is very special.”

Sage Karam, Tony Kanaan fastest in Monday’s practice for Indy 500

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In the second-to-last practice session of the week, Sage Karam paced the 33 drivers qualified for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 on Monday.

Karam had a field-best speed of 226.461 mph, followed by Tony Kanan (225.123 mph), Ryan Hunter-Reay (224.820), Charlie Kimball (224.582) and Alexander Rossi (224.507).

Sixth through 10th fastest were Will Power (224.445), Helio Castroneves (224.368), Marco Andretti (224.148) and rookie Zachary Claman Demelo (224.91) and Scott Dixon (223.966).

Power and Castroneves ran the most laps of all drivers at 120 and 118, respectively.

Two other Team Penske drivers struggled to get speed out of their cars. Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was 28th-fastest (221.982 mph) and Simon Pagenaud, who was the slowest (220.902 mph) of the 33 cars on-track.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th-fastest with a best speed of 223.573 mph in a 100-lap effort.

Most drivers were in race trim or were testing things for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing such as fuel mileage, chassis setup and more.

Rookie Matheus Leist missed most of the session with an apparent electrical problem that kept him to just 19 laps.

There was one incident of note during the 3 ½ hour session: IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens crashed coming out of Turn 2 during the first hour of practice.

Wickens appeared to skim the outside SAFER Barrier, went left and then violently turned hard back into the outside retaining wall.

MORE: Wickens wrecks during Indy 500 practice

The Honda-powered machine for the Canadian driver suffered heavy damage to the right side, particularly the right front tire and the right side of the front end.

There will be no further on-track activity for the Indy cars until Friday’s final practice to fine tune things for Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

We’ll have the full practice speed chart, as well as What Drivers Said, shortly. Please check back soon.

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