WEST ALLIS, Wis. — The IndyCar stop at the Milwaukee Mile has a new date in a series with a tight driver leaderboard.
Even the weather is ideal for the race Sunday, which starts a three-week sprint to the series finish with Will Power holding just a four-point lead in the standings.
Now if the 250-mile race could attract a few more fans, promoter and team owner Michael Andretti would feel more secure about the future of a race at the 111-year-old track.
“It’s the oldest race track in the world. It’s second only to (Indianapolis) in terms of tradition, and so I feel it should be part of the IndyCar series,” Andretti said. “For one it’s a great track, and two, its history. You know, I hope it stays on the schedule a long time.”
The track, which once had a date on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500, wasn’t on the schedule in 2010 because of financial difficulties. It nearly fell off the schedule again in 2012 before Andretti’s group took over at the last minute.
Andretti won five times here as a driver. He’s had success as an owner in Milwaukee, too, with Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay having won the race the previous two years. Hunter-Reay was the first to go back-to-back at the Mile since Tony Kanaan in 2006 and 2007, when Kanaan was driving for Andretti.
“We benefit from the fact that there is no name so synonymous with the Verizon IndyCar series than ‘Andretti,'” series spokesman Mike Kitchel said. “They’re invested in our series. They know our history, and they’ve proven they know how to put on good events.”
Promoters are trying to foster more of a festival-like feel that might be more familiar to street course events. In a way, it’s keeping with the Milwaukee area’s summer tradition of fairs and ethnic festivals.
Entering Sunday’s race, Hunter-Reay has 484 points, third behind Penske drivers Power and Helio Castroneves (544).
Power, who has four top-10 finishes at ovals this year, likes how there is more room to pass at the Mile. He has called it his favorite oval on the circuit.
“The ovals we go to are built for NASCAR so it’s really highly banked,” Power said. “This is the only true IndyCar series oval left on the calendar that suits our cars.”
Ticket sales are just as an important stat at the Mile. Andretti said his company typically doesn’t release such figures, though he added that “tickets aren’t where would like it to be; I’m a little disappointed with that.”
The Mile’s grandstand and bleachers have a seating capacity of about 45,000 people. The track sits in Wisconsin State Fair Park, and this year’s race comes the weekend after the end of the fair. Andretti said he didn’t see a boost in ticket sales he had hoped to get.
“But on the other side, I think we’re doing better sponsorship-wise and things like that,” Andretti said. “And also there are a lot of local sponsors that have stepped in, so that’s a positive, a real positive.”
ABC Supply Co. is in the first of a two-year agreement as lead sponsor.
Kitchel said there was “no reason to think otherwise” when asked this week about whether IndyCar would be in Milwaukee for the long term. It’s uncertain, though, whether the Mile would keep the same late-season date.
And for now, Andretti is taking a wait-and-see approach about his connection with the race beyond 2015.
“We’re just going to have to play it by ear and see if the people come out and support it,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.
“It’s a little frustrating because a lot of times, people say, ‘Yeah, we love it. Thanks for bringing the race out.’ And then you’re, ‘Yeah, are you coming out to the race?’ And they’re like, ‘No, no.’ Well, it’s like, ‘Come out and support it.'”