Andretti family has 50 years of Milwaukee Mile dominance


Racing has few absolutes, but generally speaking, year after year, the Milwaukee Mile has been good to the Andrettis.

Mario Andretti, the patriarch of the racing family from Nazareth, Pa., won both poles and led 259 of a possible 300 laps in sweeping the 1966 races in Al Dean’s Brawner-Ford. Over the next 19 years, he would win two more times.

Then, it was Michael’s turn.

Mario’s oldest son won from the pole for the first time in ’86, a year after his father had accomplished the same feat. He claimed four more trophies — more than one-fourth of his starts — in pushing the family total to nine before he retired from driving.

As Michael turned his attention to team ownership, success at Milwaukee continued. Dario Franchitti ushered in the era of IndyCar — then the Indy Racing League — with a victory in 2004 for Andretti Green Racing. Tony Kanaan added a pair in ’06 and ’07.

When Andretti added the responsibility of promoter — a labor of love to save the historic track — Ryan Hunter-Reay rewarded him with victories in 2012 and ’13 for Andretti Autosport.

Then came last year.

“That was frustrating,” Michael Andretti said Saturday, on the eve of the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250.

“I don’t know what happened.”

Not completely, anyway. Not yet.

Not despite a scramble that began the moment the checkered flag flew and lasted until the two Andretti drivers still running were able to park cars they didn’t particularly enjoy driving. The other, Hunter-Reay, finally got a handle on his for the race, only to have it break down.

“There was something weird going on with the team because we started with the same setup, and we had three different balances between the three cars,” said Marco Andretti, Michael’s oldest son, who finished a team-best 13th, one lap down, in that race.

“From the word go, we were out to lunch and confused. We couldn’t make sense of why we were feeling different problems.”

On the stopwatch, the 2015 Milwaukee Mile weekend for the Andretti team has picked up similarly to the way ’14 ended.

Hunter-Reay was seventh-fastest in the 75-minute practice session Saturday, Carlos Munoz was 14th, Justin Wilson 16th and Marco Andretti 23rd.

“I think we have to work overnight a lot for tomorrow,” Munoz said. “Everyone is really close (in speed) on this kind of track, so we have to work at it and see what kind of car we have tomorrow.”

The schedule calls for another 45 minutes of practice starting at 9:15 a.m., qualifying at 12:30 p.m. and the race at 4:30 p.m.

IndyFest this year provides several wrinkles.

First is the compact schedule. If a car isn’t right in qualifying, there’s little time to improve it before the race.

“It’s going to be brutal,” Hunter-Reay said. “If you’re not in the window, you’re going to be way out of it.”

Another comes in two related parts.

The aero kits introduced into the Verizon IndyCar Series this year provide significantly more down force but also turbulence in the air. The cars stick to the track by themselves but are less predictable in traffic.

Last year, the series had an open test at Milwaukee; this year, with all the changes, there wasn’t one.

“Considering I was quickest on the test last year and then garbage on race weekend, that doesn’t show we need to test,” said Marco Andretti, who started on the pole at the Mile in 2006 and ’13.

“We ran through a lot of aero kit elements at Iowa last week. I think we got a little bit of a head start there on what different parts do and knowing what we want on the car and what we don’t.”

IndyCar had only four drivers participate in that Iowa Speedway session, so no one will truly experience full-field traffic until the green flag flies.

While Chevrolet has had the upper hand over Honda for the most part this season, practice speeds Saturday were a mixed bag. Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were on top with Chevrolets, but the next two were Honda drivers Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal. Andretti uses Honda engines.

“We should be measured by what’s going on this year because there’s so many elements at every different event,” Marco Andretti said, working to bury Milwaukee 2014 in the Andretti Autosport archives.

“We’re firing on all cylinders now (as a team) and trying to maximize what we’re dealt right now, and we’re doing a good job with that.”