Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, INDYCAR, Firestone, Chevrolet and Honda Performance Development set up on pit lane during a test at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisc. (Photo Courtesy of TSO – Tony DiZinno)
By Tony DiZinno
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – It was only for a few hours on a crisp Wednesday in mid-October, but the NTT INDYCAR Series transitioned from announcement to reality of being back on The Milwaukee Mile with a two-car Firestone tire test.
The gap in years since 2015, the last time the series raced here, til now was matched by the gap between the two participants. Will Power ran for Team Penske as expected, but a late commitment drew Scott Dixon away from a planned run for Chip Ganassi Racing. Rookie Linus Lundqvist filled his stead.
Power drove the similar Penske-liveried No. 22 Verizon entry that features its Chevrolet with a twin-turbo, direct inject 2.2L V6 engine with hybrid technology. Lundqvist, slotted in his No. 8 The American Legion Honda, was running without the hybrid system so ballast was added to his car.
Tire testing is, by definition, just that. Power was busier in the morning segment working through a couple different compounds – including ones with red sidewalls that represent the softer Firestone alternate compound – while Lundqvist was delayed slightly as the CGR team worked through some things on the car.
Conditions were as good as you can ask for on an October Wednesday in Milwaukee: puffy clouds cast against blue skies with temperatures hovering either just below or above the 60 degree Fahrenheit mark.
You’d expect it to be warmer when the series returns for the doubleheader on Labor Day weekend next August 31 and September 1, but fortunately today wasn’t too cold where a 25+ degree swing in ambient temperature is likely.
Power first raced at The Milwaukee Mile in 2006, making his first ever oval start in what was then the Champ Car World Series. He also banked his first ever short oval win here in 2014, in what was that year’s third-to-last race of the season and a victory that helped propel him to his maiden series championship.
But how different was the track now compared to 2015, when Power and the series last raced here? Not much.
“The track has not changed very much. It felt very similar to the past race here, almost 10 years ago,” Power explained. “It felt exactly the same from what I can remember. It’s a long time ago now.”
Lundqvist wouldn’t have had this track as a reference, but the Swedish driver has already had more oval running than normal for most modern era rookies in an IndyCar given the limited testing.
Linus Lundqvist in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda during a Firestone Racing Tire test at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisc. (Photo Courtesy of TSO – Tony DiZinno)
He made his first IndyCar oval test for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at Texas Motor Speedway, started his first oval race with Meyer Shank Racing at World Wide Technology Raceway, and passed the Rookie Orientation Program with Chip Ganassi Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.
Yet it was a fourth oval that Lundqvist said Milwaukee reminded him of most, even though he hasn’t been on it yet in an IndyCar: Iowa Speedway.
“It’s similar (to Gateway) in the sense it’s a short oval, but I think the surface and the non-smoothness this place has reminds me more of Iowa than Gateway,” Lundqvist told TSO. “I raced at Iowa in Indy NXT. The surface and bumps are similar to that, but this place has less banking, which obviously puts a bit more stress on the car and the driver.”
Lundqvist appears a quick study because Power had the same sentiment when asked the “which of the two short ovals does Milwaukee match more” question.
“I think this will race more like an Iowa because there are multiple lanes,” Power told TSO. “They’re all different. When we raced here in ’14, you could get through the field well, similar to Iowa.”
The multiple lanes point is an interesting one from Power because it’s something the two-time series champion has been integral in implementing in IndyCar, thanks to the recent adoption of high line practice done the last couple years.
Milwaukee’s hallmark has often been the ability to race in both low and medium grooves. Lundqvist, in his first time on the track, was impressed by the speed generated.
“It’s pretty bumpy, but pretty fast. It’s really a short oval,” he explained. “I did my rookie orientation program at Indianapolis last week, an oval, but a very different oval. It very much highlighted the differences.”
Lundqvist has had an adventurous and busy last few weeks to say the least. He passed his ROP on Wednesday last week at IMS, went to Nashville over the weekend to support a Honda street demo event, and was in Florida on Tuesday for another event when he got the call he’d need to fly to Milwaukee and fill in for Dixon at this test.
“Yeah it’s not bad! I’ve been busy,” he laughed. “Obviously these two tests, then partner days and then I was in Florida when I got the call to fly to Milwaukee to do the test. It’s been very busy, but very good, exactly what I hoped it to be. I got the call and it was, ‘Yes sir, I’m on my way!”
He also noted how lucky and rare it is he has got this much seat time so early.
“The more the merrier, the more laps the better,” he said. “During a test like this, you don’t get to do much development as a driver. You get thrown a couple sets (of tires) and say if it’s good or bad.
“So it’s not quite like an extra private test day. But it’s nice when you haven’t been here before.”
While Lundqvist is newer to Milwaukee – he’s only driven through the city en route to Road America and hailed the fellow Wisconsin track’s extensive and passionate fanbase in Elkhart Lake – he is keen to learn the history of Milwaukee. After all, he’s the first IndyCar driver in more than a decade to drive at Indianapolis one week and Milwaukee the next like the old days when Milwaukee followed the Indianapolis 500 on the schedule.
Power has appreciated that Milwaukee history and looks forward to adding some more of his own upon the series return.
Will Power in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet on Alternate Firestone Racing Tires during at test at Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisc. (Photo Courtesy of TSO – Tony DiZinno)
His 2014 win had a funny post-race subplot when Power was attacked on the podium with a Wisconsin delicacy – Wisconsin State Fair cream puffs – by his fellow podium finishers, runner-up Juan Pablo Montoya and third-placed Tony Kanaan.
“Yeah, Tony Kanaan and Montoya,” Power laughed. “I think Montoya was a bit more malicious. Tony was for fun. (JPM) was not happy I won. He was trying to race me. He was second.”
He was smart to note the importance of getting this test in today before fall and winter hit.
“Yeah I think it’s good to run now for Firestone to understand what they need from a tire,” he said. “I don’t think much has changed. The cars are heavier, but it’s pretty similar.
“My first short oval win was here, so you remember that. And I love the low banking on the track. I’ll tell you after the weekend how special it is because if it doesn’t work, it’s not awesome!”