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Hunter-Reay sad to see Milwaukee dropped from IndyCar calendar

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LONDON – Former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is disappointed that Milwaukee has been dropped from the calendar for the 2016 season, but is hopeful it will return in the future.

The ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was omitted from next season’s schedule as the race could not find a new promoter, nor an available date after three different slots in the past three years (June 15, 2013, August 17, 2014 and July 12, 2015).

Although its loss has been countered by the return of fellow one-mile oval Phoenix and fan favorite, permanent road course and another Wisconsin track in Road America, the absence of Milwaukee has still come as a disappointment to many, including Hunter-Reay.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk in London ahead of this weekend’s Race of Champions, Hunter-Reay said that although he was pleased by the new arrivals, he hoped something could be done to take IndyCar back to the Mile in future years.

“Yeah Phoenix, Road America, all tracks that I love seeing on the schedule,” the Andretti Autosport driver said.

“I’m a little bit bummed Milwaukee isn’t on the schedule, but hopefully [it will return] in the future.”

Hunter-Reay finished sixth in the final standings in 2015 after a strong finish to the year, scoring wins at Iowa and Pocono and finish second at the double-points finale at Sonoma in the last four races.

The 2012 series champion is hopeful of carrying this momentum over into the new season, feeling encouraged by the early testing ahead of the new campaign.

“I hope so,” Hunter-Reay said when asked if he could continue his good end-of-year form.

“There’s quite a few changes coming from Honda for 2016, so we’re basically waiting to see what performance comes out of that.

“Testing so far has been good though. I don’t think the super-speedway package will change but we’ll see.”

Hunter-Reay will represent Team Americas this weekend at the Race of Champions alongside WTCC driver Jose Maria Lopez, and is delighted to have been invited to the event.

“Since the first time in Bangkok I’ve really looked forward to coming back,” he said. “Barbados last year was a good one for me, won five out of the six races, just missed it at the end to advance to the finals.

“I can’t say enough about how they put this event on and being here with the world’s best drivers, it’s an honor to be in their company.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994