For now, no IndyCar race at Chicagoland
BY TINA AKOURIS firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2012 9:58PM
Dario Franchitti (10, front) won the IZOD IndyCar Series PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300when it was last held at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media File
What: Milwaukee IndyFest
Where: Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.
9 a.m.: Firestone Indy Lights practice
10: IZOD IndyCar practice
11:45: Indy Lights qualifying
12:20 p.m.: Indy Lights practice
1:15: IndyCar practice
4: IndyCar qualifying
5:40: Indy Lights race (100 laps, 100 miles)
12:30 p.m.: Milwaukee IndyFest IndyCar race (225 laps, 225 miles), Ch. 7
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:31PM
If the rumors are true, then the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet will host an IZOD IndyCar series race in the near future.
But for now, track president Scott Paddock is shooting down those rumors as he continues to work with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on trying to get an IndyCar date back to Joliet — for the long haul and not just for one year.
“We left him alone during the month of May [for the Indianapolis 500],” Paddock said. “But we are going to re-engage again. This market supports IndyCar and we want them back for good. We conduct a lot of fan forums and it’s fair to say that there is a lot of interest.”
Whether Indy racing will return to Chicagoland remains in question after the series pulled its Chicago date in 2011 because of a scheduling conflict. Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti said he has heard rumors that the series will race the 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval again.
But many drivers Andretti has talked to expressed safety concerns with the Joliet track, especially in the wake of two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon’s death in Las Vegas Oct. 16. Las Vegas’ track is also a 1.5-mile circuit.
“The Dan thing was terrible and a reminder of what our sport can be like,” Andretti said. “Joliet makes [racing] more dangerous because there is more wheel-to-wheel and pack racing, and you have guys up front who may have never been there before.”
So if Chicago-area Indy racing fans want their fix, they’re going to have to travel north June 15-16 for IndyFest at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis. The Firestone Indy Lights series runs Friday night after IndyCar qualifying, and the 225-lap IndyFest race is Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
The Mile, located on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, was built in 1903 and is the oldest continuously operated racetrack next to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the track has had its problems. IndyCar did not race at the Mile in 2010 but returned in 2011, albeit with poor attendance partially blamed on a lackluster promoter.
“I’m glad we’re going back there,” said Dario Franchitti, who won his third Indy 500 last month. “Now we have to show up and support the event. That’s what kind of upset me last year. There was a big push to get us there and then no one showed up.”
And, NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck and Nationwide series have not raced at the track since 2009. The NASCAR drought at the Mile continues in 2012 with the Nationwide series racing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., June 23.
But with Andretti’s group directing the promoting efforts of IndyFest — which include opening the infield to concerts and carnival-type activities — the scion of auto racing’s most famous family hopes to revive a once-great mile oval.
“It’s a flat, perfect oval and everyone loves driving here,” Andretti said. “There is no banking, and when you get it right [driving the course], it gives you a very good feeling.”
Andretti should know. His favorite Mile moment was in 1991, when he won, his cousin John finished second and his father, Mario, was third.