WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) – As long as his boss went to the trouble of bringing IndyCar racing back to the Milwaukee Mile, Ryan Hunter-Reay figured he might as well bring home the winner’s trophy.
Hunter-Reay took the lead from Helio Castroneves on the 142md lap, didn’t cough it up on a couple of restarts and held on to the IndyCar race Saturday at the Milwaukee Mile.
It was a doubly sweet win for Michael Andretti, who fields cars for Hunter-Reay as a team owner and served as the event promoter for the race.
“It really is amazing,” Hunter-Reay said. “Milwaukee has been so important to IndyCar for so long, and I think this is a huge event for Milwaukee. These two belong together. So I really thank Michael for sticking his neck out, coming back here and really doing it the right way.”
It was the sixth career victory and first this season for Hunter-Reay. He also won at Milwaukee in 2004 in the now-defunct Champ Car Series, starting from the pole and leading every lap.
Tony Kanaan was second, followed by James Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia and E.J. Viso.
Scott Dixon had to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping a restart and finished 11th. He questioned the penalty immediately afterward – and as it turns out, he was right.
“I’m actually very excited to see what the hell they’re talking about,” Dixon said. “I’m disappointed.”
IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield acknowledged after the race that officials made a mistake. He said a failure in their timing and scoring system caused them to look at the wrong replay.
What officials looked was a replay of a previous restart that was waved off by officials at the time and didn’t count. Dixon did commit a potential infraction on that restart – but he didn’t do so on the subsequent restart that ended up counting and should not have been penalized.
“It was obviously the wrong call, based on the reality of the situation,” Barfield said.
Barfield took responsibility for the mistake, and said Chip Ganassi Racing officials were “very gracious” when presented with an explanation. Barfield said there wasn’t anything officials can do to undo the mistake.
Last year’s Milwaukee winner, Dario Franchitti, started from pole position and dominated the early stages of the race. But he fell back in the field and then spun out and hit the wall on lap 195.
Franchitti tangled with Ryan Briscoe shortly before he spun, and said afterward that contact might have broken something on his car.
“I was on Ryan’s inside, but he just kept coming down there,” Franchitti said. “I just don’t think his spotter told him I was there.”
Points leader Will Power finished 12th. Hinchcliffe moved up to second in the points.
It was a boost for the historic but financially troubled Milwaukee track, which has been hosting racing since 1903 but originally was left off the 2012 IndyCar schedule after not hosting any major racing events in 2010 and drawing a lackluster crowd for IndyCar last year.
Milwaukee was put back on this year’s schedule after Andretti agreed to serve as the race’s promoter – and Andretti announced just before Saturday’s race that the event would return in 2013.
“We’re going to be back here next year, and hopefully for a long time after that,” Andretti said.
Despite the race being a late addition to the schedule – and then a rain delay that pushed the start back – the race drew a significantly better crowd than last year.
Franchitti was untouchable in the early stages of the race, leading the first 60-plus laps before making his first pit stop. The race went green until Simona de Silvestro spun on lap 67, bringing out a caution.
Franchitti was shuffled back to fourth on the restart, after a few drivers were on pit road when the caution came out – including Viso, who took the lead on the restart.
Justin Wilson then blew an engine on lap 94, pulling to the inside wall and scrambling to get out of the car when it briefly caught fire. It was a tough reversal of fortune for Wilson, who won last week at Texas.
After a round of pit stops under caution, Castroneves – who didn’t pit after Wilson’s incident – took the lead.
With Castroneves’ tires later wearing out, Hunter-Reay waited for the right moment, then passed him for the lead on lap 142.
“We pounced,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were right there ready to go when somebody slipped up.”
Kanaan is known for his aggressiveness on restarts, but said he was just worried about not getting passed on restarts and defending his position during Saturday’s race.
“Do you even know how to do that?,” Hinchcliffe asked jokingly in the post-race news conference.
Kanaan took the good-natured ribbing in stride, answering, “I do not know how to do that.”