Monday, June 18, 2012

The Mile Returns: Notes From IndyFest

-I have to start our notes from last weekend with the simple acknowledgement that the folks at Andretti Sports Marketing and the staff at the Milwaukee Mile pulled off a startling transformation this past weekend. From a place that couldn't draw over 13,000 in 2011, the Mile was transformed into an actual "event"--with plenty to do, good word of mouth, and a very nice increase in attendance. Milwaukee IndyFest was a happy story, and a welcome bit of good news for the IndyCar schedule.

What's the reward for the fans showing up? We get at least one more year with the Milwaukee Mile. The Andrettis made this event affordable, exciting, diverse, and above all, one with a sense of an actual future--something that was definitely lacking after the prior promoter debacles. Andretti realized a race isn't enough; it has to be an Event, with a capital E. Now, let's see how they build on that for 2013. I can't wait to see what they do with even more time on their hands to get things ready.

-Milwaukee is a great city. Hoosiers pride themselves on hospitality, but the denizens of Milwaukee just seem to have this great polite streak. We had so many pleasant conversations with locals this weekend, and all of them involved in or around the race seemed to grasp that this race can be a good, solid event, and appeared to genuinely want its return.

-I have to thank the folks behind Champion Crew Conversation for providing a website geared towards getting fans to the race for an affordable, easy experience. Thanks to them, I secured a great rate at a very nice hotel close to the track. If you're going anywhere on the IndyCar calendar this year, check them out first.

A great day for Hunter-Reay, Andretti, and Mile fans.
Used with permission. Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com.
-If the rain delay hurt matters this year, in terms of on-site attendance, it wasn't much. There was such a cool vibe to this event. The fans were extremely good-natured during the rain delay, possibly because there was more to do than just huddle under the grandstands. Stationed by the main entrance/exit, I saw perhaps a handful leave, but folks were still walking in during the heaviest part of the showers. When people are genuinely content and happy to be at your event, even when nature throws a wrench in the works, that's a good sign.

-I heard the presentation of the race on ABC (and wherever they moved it after their TV window closed) was an uneven affair, but outside of the leader, there was some pretty good action through the pack. It wasn't a total pass-o-rama, but there was enough passing to keep things pretty lively. EJ Viso in particular had a very good, very spirited race, and kept fighting hard through the closing laps. That's the Viso we like to see.

-The points battle for the Championship remains closer than any of us perhaps thought at the halfway point of the season. Will Power hasn't done too poorly on the last two ovals and still leads the standings, but James Hinchcliffe has moved to P2 (31 points back) through pure consistency. We'll have to see if he can find a win or two, which is what he'll need to make up that deficit. Despite rough outings in the last two races, Scott Dixon is still only 4 points behind Hinch, and Ryan Hunter-Reay has shrugged off Indy and Texas to jump up to P4. Helio and Pags lurk, too. With Iowa the last oval until Fontana, we'll see if anyone can shave points off that lead with a sharp performance before we go back to the twisties.

-Ryan Hunter-Reay seems good for one win each year. We'll see if he can grab another one this year, but this is his third year in a row with one win. It's a fun question to debate who's the best Andretti driver right now, RHR or James Hinchcliffe.

-Even discounting the weird penalty on Scott Dixon, for a 2nd straight race, this was not Ganassi's day. Graham Rahal was steady with a P9, but Dixie had some substantial car issues and could only fight to P11. With Dario crashing and Kimball finishing a lap down, the Ganassi teams will be looking to find their way back to the top in Iowa.

-Tristan Vautier ran a consistent, smart Indy Lights race, and got the big oval win we discussed last week. He holds a narrow 3 point lead over Esteban Guerrieri, and is 14 points ahead of 3rd place Sebastian Saavedra. The Firestone Indy Lights championship is quickly becoming a 3-man race, with any of those drivers in a spot to jump into P1 after next weekend.

Vautier took back the Lights lead with a sharp race.
Used with permission. Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com.
-Other Notes: You would have to go back to 2005 to find a year in which Scott Dixon had more than one pair of back-to-back finishes outside the Top 10--until 2012...Great sponsor activation at the track by the RC Cola/Sun Drop folks, who were handing out free samples all over. It was also the only track I've been to where RC Cola was the vendor drink of choice...Ed Carpenter started the week with some definite struggles, but hung in there for a nice P8 finish...Justin Wilson was running very well indeed before his engine let go. I'm not sure he's done winning this year...Simona de Silvestro had an early out on the day, but the Lotus HVM car actually outqualified someone on an oval this weekend. That might not seem like much, but it's progress...Oriol Servia doesn't get as much attention as the other drivers, but he's as good a multi-discipline driver as anyone in the Series...Marco Andretti (P15) still has failed to crack the Top 10 in any race this year...It was difficult to get an exact number on attendance, but my best guess for the crowd is somewhere between 20-25,000...When in and around Milwaukee, check out El Beso Mexican Restaurante in Greenfield for some amazingly good food. I didn't equate Milwaukee with prime Mexican food, but El Beso was fantastic.

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