I attended my second Indycar race of the season at the Milwaukee Mile today. Overall: A great race, and it sounds like more even more drama has come to light since I got home.
I waited to buy my ticket, keeping my eye on the promotions and available tickets. It didn't seem like much had been sold even up until last Thursday, when I went to take advantage of one of the promotions and got pretty much the exact ticket I wanted (South Terrace, bleacher FF, row 18).
Both the fact that most seats were unsold and that the people selling the tickets seemed very confused about when their own promotions began and ended were troubling. It also bugged me that, aside from some radio ads, I saw about zero promotion for this race. Hopefully everyone (ahem, Randy B.) sees this as a building year and will come back bigger and better in 2012.
I enjoyed following the buildup to the race in the usual media outlets. It was especially fun seeing the drivers tweet about the local places I know about.
In unsurprising developments, Dario won the pole. Helio qualified in second, with Dixon in third. Lest you think this was more domination by the Galactic Empire, starting spots 4 through 6 were taken by the KV Racing entries. Championship leader and three-time (so far) winner this year Will Power started a surprising 17th. Simona De Silvestro made yet another trip to the hospital when she wrecked in qualifying.
Sunday morning broke rainy. At least in my neighborhood. Checking the weather turned up a window in the weather that would be open at least until the race started. I was worried about rain all day, but no more came.
I parked right outside the main gates of State Fair Park, near many other enthusiastic race fans. Good for me (especially when I figured out how to leave quickly), but worrisome that these prime parking spots were available just a couple of hours before race time.
First up was a tour of the usual merchandise trailers and souvenir tents. (Great to see one for Newman-Haas drivers Hinchcliffe and Servia) I think the caliber and quantity of apparel has improved since even Indy. This is a subject I'll be tackling further in the near future...
I scored a Spotter's Guide (great for new fans and a perfect souvenir for myself) at the Izod area, and checked out the 2012 Dallara oval car mock-up. I still like it and hope that something with its wheel shields and shark fins makes it to the grid in 2012.
Pippa Mann was onstage for a Q & A session, and demonstrated why she should be a star in the series. Her bubbly personality came through, and she actually suggested taking questions from the audience.
Up here, Danica Patrick still gets the loudest cheers during driver introductions. Simona, Kanaan, and Castroneves were far behind. Interestingly, the only driver to get no applause whatsoever was EJ Viso.
Finally, the start of the race. Immediately the intimacy of Milwaukee compared to, say, Indy was apparent as the field thundered into turn one. Unfortunately, Ryan Hunter-Reay didn't make it very far past turn one after spinning by himself and backing into the wall. At least no one would confuse he and his GoDaddy colors with Danica Patrick and her goDaddy colors for the rest of the day.
Dario quickly asserted himself as the car to beat, though the rest of the field was up for grabs and positions changed hands often. I hope there was no complaining about the racing today... Sebastian Saavedra and Vitor Meira took turns being "uncharacteristic guy in the way of the fast cars." Vitor would eventually park the car with handling problems (Did someone at Foyt misplace the Milwaukee notebook? Paul Tracy's car in 2009 was notably awful, as well). Saavedra would end up being in the wrong place when Alex Lloyd spun later. All three KV cars were in the mix, at least until the first pit stops.
First, I'm finding that I need more practice watching live pit stops. For all the open-wheel races I've been to, I realize now that the pits were clearly visible at only a few. Second, a lot happened in the pits in this race. Takuma Sato ("The KV Racing Driver Who Wrecks a Lot, But Not As Much As Viso") looked like he wanted to pit in Scott Dixon's stall. One result was a loose tire that made everyone downstream on pit road thread the needle to avoid it. I think he also hit one of his own crewmen and may have made Dixon's spotter drop an F-bomb on ABC. Unmitigated disaster, in other words.
I'm not sure happened with the Will Power tire and Dario on the second pitstops, though I have an interesting photo that might shed some light on it... I'll have to wait for the video.
Tony Kanaan passed Franchitti for the lead late in the second stint, and promptly left him behind.
On final pit stops, Helio Castroneves got past the leaders to control the race for himself. He raised Dario's ire by his behavior on the restart (again, I'll have to see the video), but word soon spread that he had a left rear tire going down. Before he could pit and give away his lead (and a lap or two), Tony Kanaan spun by himself in turn 4 and knocked a couple of corners off of his car. Helio could now pit to replace his tire with minimal loss of position and Dario was relieved of his primary competition for the lead.
The last restart had the leaders lined up: Dario, Graham Rahal, Will Power, and Oriol Servia. When the green flew, Rahal's efforts were for nought as Dario held his lead. Servia capitalized on the opportunity and passed Power for third. Helio tried using his fresh tires to advantage, but really didn't make much progress. Dario pulled out about a 1.6 second lead on Rahal that he would hold for the rest of the race (I timed the interval every lap-Rahal had nothing for Dario).
1. Dario-the class of the field. Dominated without running away, if that makes any sense. I think he has a lot of legitimate complaints, but maybe he should air them in private, especially after winning. I'm a big Dario fan, but sometimes its hard to spread his gospel...
2. Graham-Had a quiet day of slowly moving up. Almost surprised to see him up this high at the end. If I'm counting right, that's 3 top 5s in 4 races. Won't be long before he wins a few of these.
3. Servia-Another guy who was in the hunt all day. One wonders how much better he could have done without the pit stop that dropped him to ninth mid-race. Again, I'd like to see the video.
4. Power-Again, quietly picked his way to the front position-by-position. Did exactly what he needed to in order to pick up points.
5. Patrick-What? Where did she come from? I'm not even sure she was in the top ten for most of the day. On the lead lap, sure, but silent otherwise.
6. Hinchcliffe-He hung around in the top 10 all day, finally getting up to sixth as the best-finishing rookie.
7. Dixon-For every bit of good luck Dario gets, Dixon gets a bit of bad. I heard he had a broken front wing today, and there was the pit incident with Sato.
8. Sato-What? The sole surviving KV car, yet he still suffered through plenty of problems.
9. Helio-I feel a little bad for him, but if Dario is right I'll change my mind when I see the video.
10. Justin Wilson-Looked racy early on, but had to settle for 10th. For someone who is supposedly only good on road courses, he acquitted himself well.
Overall, I thought it was a great race, even if the drama wasn't (usually) about the leader. I'm sure I'll have more to talk about after watching a replay, but for now I'll go to bed happy and hope that my next Indycar race will be sooner than 11 months from now...