WEST ALLIS, Wis.– Before the start of Saturday’s Milwaukee IndyFest at The Milwaukee Mile, it appeared race promoter and team owner Michael Andretti would have one of his four top drivers finish the race in victory lane.
For much of the early portion of that race it appeared it would be his son, Marco, who would score his third career IndyCar victory and add another win to the list of Milwaukee wins between his grandfather, Mario, and father. But in the end, it was a familiar face back in victory lane as Ryan Hunter-Reay successfully defended last year’s win with a come-from-behind effort to defeat the Team Penske duo of Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
It was Hunter-Reay’s 11th career IndyCar victory and his third win at The Milwaukee Mile. His first came when he led all 250 laps in the Champ Car World Series race in 2004 and he would score win No. 2 last year.
Saturday’s win on Father’s Day Weekend was extra special because he got to celebrate it with his son, Ryden, who was born on Dec. 28, 2012.
“It was great to do it again in Milwaukee,” Hunter-Reay said. “What a race track. Oldest race track in the world still producing great racing. Every time I had the opportunity to race here, I feel blessed. It’s such a challenging place. When you get it right there is no better feeling in IndyCar than at The Milwaukee Mile. Indianapolis is definitely right there with it but this place is very special.
“Really, to get a win on Father’s Day with our six-month old son in victory lane I’m going to remember that forever. That’s a special win because there aren’t many where you get to hold your son in victory lane.”
Hunter-Reay is the first driver to score back-to-back victories at Milwaukee since Tony Kanaan in 2006 and 2007.
Castroneves remains the IZOD IndyCar Series points leader with 299 points, but with the victory Hunter-Reay moved into second place, 16 points out of the lead. Andretti dropped to third, 50 points out of first.
Andretti Autosport drivers have won five of the last nine races at The Milwaukee Mile.
“As a team it’s been great, as a driver it’s been great and now as a promoter it’s been great,” Michael Andretti said. “A lot of people had a lot of fun out there today. Marco had a problem; it was like an electrical problem. It would have been nice to have him fighting out there for the win as well. The people that weren’t here today are going to be sorry they went home because they missed a great race.”
Castroneves pitted on lap 155 for a pit stop after his fearless duel with Sato, who pitted one lap later. Sato had a good stop and returned to the track in front of Castroneves on the track. Castroneves was trapped by traffic when he was boxed in by Ana Beatriz’s slower car.
E.J. Viso and Power took turns leading the race and Power pitted with 83 laps to go. Power’s pit stop was flawless but Sato maintained the lead.
Sato got loose in turn four on lap 183. Although he was able to stay in the lead he could not hold off the charge from defending winner Hunter-Reay, who took the lead with 53 laps to go when he passed both Castroneves and Sato.
“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 gave some of the guys off strategy, Helio, Takuma, et cetera, gave them the lead. A little later in the race, for some reason we missed the balance. We lost our race car, where it was really strong before. We lost it. Luckily in the last stint we got it back again.
“To your point, I think we had a really good car in traffic. I was able to choose lanes that I wanted. They seemed to be handcuffed to one lane. That was the difference for me, being able to move around. When I saw what they liked, I switched it up, went the other way, got by them. It was fun on the Firestone tires today. We were sliding around a lot. It was fun.”
Castroneves also believes that was the decisive move of the race for the winner.
“I don’t know what sequence of tires he was running and may have been on a better tire than us,” Castroneves said. “Takuma was fast too and he was having some big moments just waiting when it would happen. Ryan did a good job and took advantage of the traffic and take the lead. The yellow came right away; everybody stopped and were in the same sequence. The whole race was very back-and-forth and you had to drive the car.”
Quipped Power, “He was obviously very fast.”