Notebook: Milwaukee Mile
July 24, 2006 | 3:06 P.M. EST
With 25 laps remaining in the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225, and with all of its cars running in the top-five, it appeared that Andretti Green Racing would be reinstated as king of the short ovals.
But as drivers Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and even rookie Marco Andretti can attest, nothing’s a given in an IndyCar Series race. At least one of the cars was able to park in The Milwaukee Mile’s Victory Circle.
Kanaan, who took the lead from Andretti on Lap 180, held off a hard-charging Sam Hornish Jr. to claim the victory – the first of the season for the team. Kanaan’s previous trip to Victory Circle was last August at Infineon Raceway, where the IndyCar Series competes Aug. 27. Andretti, Franchitti and Herta finished 5-7, respectively.
“I would say I'm happy,” said Kanaan, whose No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone led a field-high 127 laps. “I go back to the end of 2002 when Michael (Andretti) had a lot of faith in me, when he bought the team. He came straight to me. Those days, I wasn't doing very well. There were at least 13 drivers ahead of me in the (CART) championship that he could hire, apart from himself. He gave me a lot of credit.
“When we talked, I promised him I will always try to give it 100 percent. I'm glad that I was able to give (AGR) their first win this year. The team is working harder than they've ever been.”
Kanaan is the first non-Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Marlboro Team Penske driver to win in 10 events this season. Though he’s tied for fifth in the standings (79 points behind Hornish, the leader with 356), Kanaan and Co. will keep pressing.
“Everybody was expecting us to fall apart,” said Kanaan, who collected his seventh career IndyCar Series victory. “I think we're more together now than we've ever been.
“We're not here just to beat (Ganassi and Penske teams). They're obviously doing better than us. It's the two teams that we always try to beat. We're here to win races. They definitely have done a better job than us apparently this year, (but) we’re catching up. I would say more and more they see us coming back.”
AGR had won 19 of 33 races, two driver championships and consecutive team championships the previous two seasons.
“That's the nature of the business,” Kanaan said. “We've been dominating for the last two years. They’ve been dominating now. We’re getting closer. I'm just happy that we broke the streak.”
Andretti was relieved.
“He's been our go-to guy the last three or four years,” Andretti said. “He came through again.”
The foursome of cars was strong all weekend, with Franchitti and Andretti topping the speed charts in separate practice sessions on July 21. Andretti and Kanaan shared Row 2 for the third annual race at the venerable oval, and Andretti led Laps 141-179 before giving way to Kanaan.
“That was good, to have all four cars running up front,” Michael Andretti said. “We haven't had much of that all year.”
Kanaan paces the AGR contingent with 148 laps led in four races. Andretti has led 41 laps (two races) and Franchitti 40 (two races, including a pole start at St. Petersburg). Herta, the winner from the pole last year at Michigan International Speedway, hasn’t led this season. The 2-mile oval is the next stop on the IndyCar Series for the Firestone Indy 400 on July 30.
“It's been very frustrating,” Michael Andretti continued. “We're a team that's used to winning. I think we could have been in the winner's circle two or three times this year. For whatever reason, it didn't happen. To finally do it, do it here at Milwaukee, it feels good.
“We won here two years ago with Dario as a team. It's a great place for us, and I'm glad we were finally able to break the ice here.”
Scheckter soldiers on for third-place
Tomas Scheckter didn’t have radio communications with his team, was running on worn tires and at one point was a lap down.
But the South African persevered for a third-place finish in the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 at The Milwaukee Mile – a season high for the driver and the first top-five finish for second-year IndyCar Series team Vision Racing.
Scheckter, who started eighth in the No. 2 Honda-powered Dallara, made a late charge from seventh position to record his third top 10 in the past four races. Scheckter’s previous best in his first season as the team expanded to two cars was seventh at Richmond and Kansas. Vision Racing posted its sixth consecutive top-10 finish (between Scheckter and Ed Carpenter).
“We did a great job and we got our lap back which is the most important thing when (Tony) Kanaan got ahead,” said Scheckter, who had the fastest race lap (163.885 mph; 22.2961 seconds) on Lap 218 when he was making his move. “We had a problem with our radios with about 40 laps in, so I struggled to give feedback. It was always kind of a guess with pit stops, and I would look across to see if the guys were in the pit and then I’d come in if they were.
“It helped out so much getting those tires at the end. Everybody at Vision Racing did a wonderful job today, and the team has really come together. Racing was extremely tough, and there was a lot of different tactics going on throughout the race. I’m really looking forward to coming back here next year.”
Drivers reap post-race rewards
Tony Kanaan reaped the benefits from winning an IndyCar Series event.
As the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 race winner, Kanaan was presented with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT Camera and an engraved Aquaracer Automatic timepiece from TAG Heuer, the official timekeeper and watch of the Indy Racing League. TAG Heuer presents an engraved Aquaracer Automatic timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event.
The Aquaracer concept is founded on providing the accuracy that all water sports demand. Based on the design and features of the timeless 2000 series, launched in 1982, TAG Heuer’s watchmakers and designers have created an original, prestigious sports watch that is water-resistant to 300 meters.
Dario Franchitti collected the Firestone Performance Award and its $10,000 prize for leading Lap 129 of the race and the Lincoln Electric Hard Charger Award and its $2,000 prize for being the race leader who started furthest back, while Tomas Scheckter won the K&N Award and its $2,000 prize for being the highest-placed eligible finisher. Helio Castroneves won the Marlboro Pole Award and its $10,000 prize.
Helio takes spin with Maxim
IndyCar Series standout Helio Castroneves takes readers of Maxim magazine on a test drive of four high-performance sports cars in the August issue of the men’s magazine.
The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner test drove a Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, a Lamborghini Gallardo, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a Porsche Cayman S at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this year and gives a brief comment on each car as well as tips for getting around the track.
The August issue of Maxim is on newsstands, now.
There have been an average of 8.6 lead changes and an 5.1 leaders in 10 races this season ... The Michael Andretti Foundation is auctioning off an opportunity for an Indy Racing Experience 2-seater ride with Michael Andretti on Aug. 24 at Infineon Raceway. The auction will be available for bidding on eBay ... Five drivers are within 64 points of Jay Howard with four races remaining in the Indy Pro Series. The distance isn’t insurmountable. Last year, Jeff Simmons, who was fifth in points with four races to go, outscored Travis Gregg by 65 points to finish second in the championship standings.