IndyCar returns to Milwaukee; crowds don't
The Indy racing icon had a grand old time watching the race from the grandstands Sunday. His son, Graham, finished a strong second behind Dario Franchitti, and that wasn't the only enjoyable part of the afternoon.
"I was up in the grandstands watching the race today and people were buying me beer," Rahal said. "You know, good 'cheesers' — I love the cheeseheads. They are real people and real racers. We had a real good time."
But it's going to take a lot more friendly locals to make the Mile a viable venue for IndyCar again.
Milwaukee did not host major racing events last year after its past promoters had financial problems, but returned to the IndyCar schedule this year. Fan response was lukewarm; the grandstands hold about 40,000 people, and might have been one-third full at the green flag.
That's despite a strong publicity push by the event's new promoter, including a two-for-one ticket deal late in the week.
"Being away from a year, maybe that's not such a good thing," Rahal said. "It's like starting from scratch again. But I don't think there's anybody that drives here, that comes here to race, that doesn't like coming here. And I think this racetrack has always produced great races. And we saw one today. I don't know of there ever being a bad race, in all of the years I was here, they were always good races."
Milwaukee was a strong market for Indy-style racing when the elder Rahal was racing, and he hopes it can come back.
"I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for this track," Rahal said. "There's such great tradition here. It's close to Chicago. You've got Milwaukee. It's not far from Minneapolis. There's no reason why it shouldn't fill the place."
SIMONA STRUGGLES: It has been a rough few weeks for Simona De Silvestro.
About a month after a crash that burned both her hands during practice for the Indianapolis 500, De Silvestro was back at the hospital Saturday night after crashing during her qualifying run at the Milwaukee Mile.
De Silvestro was released from the hospital late Saturday night and cleared to drive by IndyCar officials Sunday morning. Her crew worked late into the night to repair the car.
But she didn't last long once the green flag fell, coming to the pits and getting out of the car after 11 laps.
"Throughout the day, I thought I was ready to get out there, but it only took a lap or two to realize that I wasn't," she said, in comments distributed by the team.
De Silvestro's injuries were unclear, but she posted a message on her Twitter account Sunday evening that said, "Banged my head pretty hard on that one!"
She also thanked her team for making the extra effort to fix her car.
IRON MAN: Earlier in the week, avid cyclist and triathlete Tony Kanaan made a side trip to the Trek Bicycles factory about an hour west of Milwaukee. Kanaan is preparing to compete in the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii this October, and Trek is providing a custom bicycle painted to look like his race car.
Kanaan said he had visited the Trek factory before — but he got the true VIP treatment this time, visiting with the company's professional racing mechanics.
Kanaan said his factory visit caused him to flash back to his go-kart racing days, when he used to revel in beating rich kids with fancier karts. Now, he joked, he's the one whose ability is no match for his equipment.
"I have the same bike as all the pros, the same wheels, same equipment, the mechanics from the factory tune my bike — and I (stink), for sure," Kanaan joked.
Fellow IndyCar driver Vitor Meira is scheduled to compete in the triathlon with Kanaan.
NOTES: Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson served as the grand marshall, giving the command to start engines. He was given a racing helmet painted to look like a Packers helmet, signed by the drivers. ... JR Hildebrand crashed midway through the race, a wreck that looked a lot like his infamous last-lap crash out of the lead in the Indianapolis 500. Hildebrand was wearing a wrap on his injured knee but said it felt OK. ... Dario Franchitti's dad was there to watch him win on Father's Day. "It's always special when I win and I can see my dad's face, but especially today on Father's Day," Franchitti said. "I don't think I'm alone here, and most of the drivers on that grid, without the sacrifices of their parents, wouldn't be here."