What to watch for: IndyCar at Milwaukee

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– This is “Big Three” country: As noted earlier this week, all Indy Racing League/INDYCAR-sanctioned races at the Milwaukee Mile have been won by drivers from the stables of Team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. All four Andretti pilots (including pole sitter Marco Andretti) and Penske’s Will Power have locked out the Top 5 starting positions for today’s grid, but don’t count out TCGR’s Scott Dixon (starting 11th), who was roaring to the front last year at Milwaukee until a mistaken restart penalty ruined his race. His teammate, Dario Franchitti, has also been traditionally stout here, too (two wins, five podiums in IRL/IndyCar competition).

– Damn this traffic jam: It’s a fact of life on short ovals like Milwaukee (as well as next week’s track, the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway) – you’re gonna deal with lapped traffic on a regular basis. Leaders must dispose of back-markers quickly lest they get caught behind them and allow their pursuers to catch up; a car that’s capable of performing well around others will be important to have this afternoon.

– Keep your eye on Kanaan: If you’re doing the fantasy racing thing (and you’re smart about it), then you’ve likely already put the Indianapolis 500 champ on your team this weekend for Milwaukee. Tony Kanaan has two wins at the Mile (2006, 2007) and was runner-up last year to Ryan Hunter-Reay. In his last eight starts at the Mile, he’s finished no worse than fourth in six of them. Don’t be surprised if he’s the guy that leads the group outside of those aforementioned “Big Three” squads.

– More people in the stands?: Michael Andretti and his group worked their butts off to keep racing alive at the Mile, and they were rewarded last season with a solid turnout estimated at 25,000. This year, they’re hoping for a bigger crowd that can help continue their efforts to cement the Mile’s place on the schedule. We’ll see if the race fans in Milwaukee come through and help their own cause; the Mile is an open-wheel cornerstone that’s held in high regard by longtime followers of the sport. It’d be nice to see it on the docket for years to come.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Milwaukee IndyFest
Starting Grid

Row 1
25-Marco Andretti
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
12-Will Power
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 3
5-E.J. Viso
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 4
11-Tony Kanaan
67-Josef Newgarden

Row 5
77-Simon Pagenaud
55-Tristan Vautier

Row 6
9-Scott Dixon
16-James Jakes

Row 7
19-Justin Wilson
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 8
14-Takuma Sato
98-Alex Tagliani

Row 9
3-Helio Castroneves
4-Ryan Briscoe

Row 10
18-Ana Beatriz
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 11
83-Charlie Kimball
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 12
10-Dario Franchitti (penalized, engine)
15-Graham Rahal (penalized, engine)

Watch today’s Milwaukee IndyFest online and on your mobile device.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.