A few observations from around the track Friday at the Milwaukee Mile:
UNLUCKY SEVEN – Not only does Dario Franchitti have the pole, but many of his top rivals are starting at a slight disadvantage because of 10-spot grid penalties enforced for unapproved engine changes. Top two in the championship – Will Power and Scott Dixon – and the day's two fastest drivers in practice – Josef Newgarden and Justin Wilson – are among the seven hit with the change.
Newgarden and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Takuma Sato (LEFT) carried penalties over from changes at Texas, while Dixon, Power and A.J. Foyt Racing's Mike Conway all lost their engines at the Iowa test. Wilson's was planned to be changed, while Briscoe's was changed during the day on Friday.
Dixon has his worst starting position since Iowa last year, when he started 23rd, but that night he climbed to third by the finish. It's a different animal this year, but he's still bullish about improving.
“The car is very good in race trim,” said Dixon, who won at Milwaukee in 2009. “We had too much understeer on the run and I had to lift in Turns 3 and 4. We'll really have to come from the back tomorrow.”
Sato is at a slightly greater disadvantage, after being one of few drivers in the field who hasn't tested at the track this year. More than a dozen cars were at Milwaukee the Tuesday after Indianapolis to test, and Sato's RLL team also missed the Iowa test as it was repairing its car from an accident at Texas.
“The car was a little sketchy and maybe a bit tipped over for qualifying, and we had a little oversteer,” Sato explained. “We made good progress given short practice and no testing. I think it was good considering the position. If there's any opportunity to do something on strategy, we'll try it.”
Although he starts 24th, Sato rose from 25th to a podium in Brazil, and a finish would end a string of three straight DNFs – the most notable of which his last lap passing attempt for the win at Indianapolis.
Practice pacesetter Newgarden, wearing the blue and black livery on his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing machine with Milwaukee-based Direct Supply on his sidepods this race, is still struggling to find a balance in handling to match both his own and the car's speed thus far this year.
“I was more confident in single car trim,” he said. “It could be a rough day, but we have a fast car. It's just about making the car last, and maybe we'll surprise people. I'm more concerned with the tire wear.”
Wilson starts best of the bunch in 12th ahead of Power (14th), Newgarden (17th), Briscoe (19th), Dixon (21st), Sato (24th) and Conway (25th).
KV REPEATS STRONG QUALIFYING RUN – A new car but still a great qualifying run for the trio of KV Racing Technology entries at Milwaukee. A year after Tony Kanaan, Sato and E.J. Viso lined up fourth, fifth and sixth, Rubens Barrichello, Viso and Kanaan start third, fifth and sixth this year.
The biggest difference, of course, is that Viso and Kanaan both have new engineers this year compared to last. Formerly with Bill Pappas and Michael Cannon this time last year, Viso now has engineers Olivier Boisson and Mike Armbrester, Kanaan back with his longtime engineer Eric Cowdin. Kanaan – a near winner in this race last year – explained both his run and the challenges which will come with Saturday's race.
“It was a lot quicker than we went all day long,” Kanaan said. “We did a great job, and I feel pretty pleased with what we did. In the race, it's not just the tires that fall off. It's the car and the tires together. Makes you drive a little bit more. You have to be careful when you ask about tires falling, because they're exactly the way we want them.”
Early pacesetter Viso has yet another good qualifying run this year – fifth for the second race in the last three – and said he felt his car had good handling and competitiveness.
Milwaukee rookie Barrichello is of course seeking a start, which he hasn't managed in his last two races, while soaking up the experience of driving the classic mile oval.
“Our car has been pretty good from the word ‘go,'” he said. “Driving, it's almost like I've been here before. I did come a couple times to watch the race. It's a very high speed but big downforce track – I like it!”
OTHER TIDBITS – There was some confusion regarding what tickets were good for where on Friday. Grandstand admission was free, but a separate infield-only ticket was required to access the amenities – and activities – scattered throughout the infield. On Saturday, when gates open at 8:00 a.m., all reserved ticket holders will have access to infield activities. That includes a Family Fun Zone and zip-line, Midway rides and games, the IndyCar Fan Village, Snake Pit, viewing decks and concert stage.
Most of the drivers admitted the track should have about a groove and a half, and Ryan Hunter-Reay surmised that there likely won't be two-wide racing after the first few laps of a stint, and the level of front grip has been a tad lacking.
There's no question you can see the investment made by new Milwaukee promoters Andretti Sports Marketing, evident from the signs and activities present. Also prominent is the color blue – worn by staff members, and painted on the exterior walls of the track save for the GoDaddy.com signage on the backstraight. GoDaddy IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe joked earlier in the week his car becomes “invisible” in that stretch.
See a gallery of pictures from Friday at the Milwaukee Mile on our Facebook page.