It was victory here in 2012 that truly ignited Ryan Hunter-Reay's ultimately successful IZOD IndyCar Series championship campaign, and he'll be hoping that a second consecutive win at the Milwaukee Mile augurs well for the same outcome in 2013. And on the evidence of this weekend's race, he'll be a hard man for his rivals to stop.
As a team, Andretti Autosport had already been the class of the field in qualifying with all four entries starting the race from the top five. After heading all the track sessions on Friday, polesitter Marco Andretti duly led his team mate James Hinchcliffe to the green flag for the start of the now 250-lap Saturday afternoon race at the Milwaukee Mile, but it was Hunter-Reay surging from fourth place round the outside who had the best start, making it an all-Andretti three-wide battle at the starting line.
Marco was able to settle into the lead and rebuffed a couple of no-holds-barred attempts by Hunter-Reay to take the lead, but Hinchcliffe lost out in that battle and quickly also dropped a further spot to Will Power, but he was able to resist Tony Kanaan's attack for fourth place as the race started to find an initial rhythm.
Shortly after Justin Wilson had a scary moment keeping his #19 Dale Coyne Racing car off the wall, Simona de Silvestro spun out on lap 22 and put the KV Racing car into light light contact with the outside wall at turn 4 to trigger the first caution of the day.
"The car was loose from the start and then it just took off," the Swiss driver explained. "We made contact with the wall. The guys changed the rear wing and we went back out, but I don't know if it was damage from the crash or what, but it really wasn't drivable after that."
None of the leaders were tempted into breaking their three-stop strategy plans but nine cars further back pitted, including Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden. Justin Wilson was also in to have his early handling problems sorted out as soon as possible, while fellow Brit Dario Franchitti also had little to lose by pitting early after starting from the back of the grid following an engine change penalty.
The restart on lap 28 was quickly aborted by a spin for Alex Tagliani which also saw Graham Rahal rear-end his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team mate James Jakes as everyone managed to avoid the #78. The next restart on lap 33 went more smoothly, with Marco once again able to hold off Hunter-Reay to keep the lead, while Hinchcliffe once again struggled to get up to speed and lost a further spot, this time to his other team mate EJ Viso.
The mixture of pit strategies highlighted whose car was in a strong state at this early stage of the race, and whose was not: among the early stoppers quickly moving forward were AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato (rapidly back into the top ten), Castroneves and Newgarden; while those who had stayed out and were now on the slide included Scott Dixon, Tristan Vautier and Ana Beatriz.
The track stayed green despite Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais running slow on the track after suffering a fuel pump problem on lap 54; he made it back to pit lane only to run over an air gun on his exit, earning him a drive-thru to compound his frustrations even before he was eventually forced to retire with further mechanical problems.