It's been two years since IndyCar last visited the Milwaukee Mile, and the drivers were certainly happy to be back: unfortunately the same couldn't be said of the crowd. With the stadium's capacity a relatively modest 40,000, it still looked as though the race was barely attracting a third of that number to the mid-June Milwaukee 225.
Which is a shame, as the return to one of the classic IndyCar-style circuits meant a return to some examples of the best side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel battles of old, together with more than a few crashes, incidents and controversy along the way.
The first incident occurred even before the green flag had finished flying for the start of the race, when Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to have to lift going into turn 2 behind the two KV Racing Technology cars of Takuma Sato and EJ Viso. That lift made the car go light and he lost the rear end, sending him into the wall - with Ryan Briscoe doing superbly to avoid being collected as well. It was an sad early end to Hunter-Reay's afternoon in his first outing in the GoDaddy.com livery shared with Andretti Autosport team mate Danica Patrick and normally on the #27 of Mike Conway.
"It's extremely unfortunate," said Hunter-Reay. "The car just broke loose on the way in and I just couldn't save it. I feel bad for the guys, we had a good car here this weekend."
Once the restart took place on lap 7, the race managed to run smoothly for the next 60 laps, with Dario Franchitti managing to pull out a huge lead of some 5s over Helio Castroneves in second, followed by Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and EJ Viso. But as the green flag stint wore on, Franchitti's pace notably started to fall off and gradually the chasing pack started to close right up on him.
There were early retirements for two cars, the first of which was Simona de Silvestro. She had crashed during Saturday qualifying and been concerned about back pain as well as needing stitches to a cut on her leg against the steering wheel in the impact, but she impressed everyone by being ready to race on Sunday afternoon. Sadly the same wasn't true for the rebuilt #78 which had chronic handling problems, and the HVM team made a quick call to park the car for the day after all.
AJ Foyt made a typically non-nonsense call to park the #14 after 69 laps, declaring the car not in a fit state to compete and that he didn't want it out there just to have an expensive crash. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team could have made the same call about Alex Tagliani's #77 which after a few full-speed laps at the start of the race abruptly lost all pretence of pace and was passed repeatedly by everyone. Tag continued to stay out - and managed to keep out of trouble as well - but finished a horrific 29 laps off the lead in 19th position.
On lap 66, just as it looked as though Franchitti was in danger of losing the lead, the second caution came out for a rather innocuous slow-speed incident involving Ana Beatriz who got up too high onto the marbles and went for a slide against the wall. Despite no serious damage being done the yellow flags came out anyway, just in time to provide the field with a convenient round of pit stops.
"I was trying to keep my lap because Dario Franchitti was behind me and as soon as I went a little bit higher I got in the dirty part of the track and brushed the wall," explained Beatriz. "It hurt the suspension a little bit and we lost two laps because of that. It was really frustrating that we couldn't put it all together. I felt that some people were really blocking hard today which really screwed us up."