The IZOD IndyCar Series returned to the Iowa Speedway June 22nd for some old fashioned Saturday night short track racing. Racing at Iowa is uniquely challenging for the IndyCar Paddock as the track surface is only 7/8 of a mile in length, but progressive banking gives the track the characteristics of a superspeedway and lightning fast lap times under 18 seconds. IZOD IndyCar drivers requested a low downforce setup similar to that run at Texas Motor Speedway earlier in the month. The result was a race that the drivers had to drive instead of mashing the gas pedal and hoping for the best. The hope was the race would be much like Texas with competitive side-by-side racing but with the driver a big part of the winning equation. Iowa Speedway delivered!
Over recent years, the IZOD IndyCar Series has not shied away from trying new formats to spice up their schedule and encourage new fans to pay attention. In Iowa, they tried a new twist to the race weekend which was qualifying determined by three heat races as opposed to single car qualifying averaging the speed of two green flag laps. Practice times determined the field for the three heat races with odd numbered cars from 11th on back fighting for the inside lane and even numbered cars fighting for 10th on back for the outside lane. The top-9 practice times were the only cars able to contend for the Pole Position ultimately won by Dario Franchitti. The format was interesting and worth exploring, but the contention for most drivers was that every heat race should have meaning for the winner. A transfer spot to the final heat race for the Pole would remedy that situation.
The race’s already late start time was delayed by over an hour due to heavy rains earlier in the day. Props to NBC Sports Network’s broadcast team as they navigated the rain delay by offering compelling interviews with just about every driver in the Paddock. The Iowa Speedway crew completed the track drying procedure and drivers were called to their cars. Polesitter Dario Franchitti saw his night come to an end before it started as his Honda engine gave out on the warm-up laps ending his day. The race restarted and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske benefitted from Franchitti’s engine troubles to take the early lead being chased by James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay while all three drivers navigated early lap traffic. The early laps provided exactly what the drivers were hoping for…competitive side-by-side racing but the cars were a handful to drive.
Will Power suffered another night to forget in Iowa when, early in the race, Power navigated his Verizon Team Penske car to the low side of the racetrack in turn 2. The problem was that the No. 5 CITGO KV Racing Technology car piloted by EJ Viso was closing on Power and was inside the Team Penske driver at the time. The two cars made contact sending both cars into the SAFER barrier ending the race for both drivers. Power later admitted to his mistake and patched up any ill feelings with Viso.
As happens frequently in auto racing, strategy became paramount storyline in the race and Roger Penske looked to have given Ryan Briscoe an opportunity to win the race on a great fuel strategy. At the end of a previous caution, Penske called Briscoe to bring the No. 2 Transitions Adaptive Lenses Dallara Chevrolet to the pits to top off the fuel in the car to go a little bit longer on the next stint than every other driver on the track. As the next round of green flag stops cycled through, Briscoe found himself on a lap all on his own and was looking to be in a great position if a caution came out. The caution came out, but, unfortunately, Briscoe was the driver in the wall bringing out the yellow. Briscoe maintained the low lane as he was going to pit the next lap when he was dive bombed by Josef Newgarden who was just off pit lane with fresh tires. The incident resulted in an end to the race for Briscoe and Newgarden.
The cars from Andretti Autosport, as in the 2011 race, appeared to be the strongest horses in the race with only Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon able to offer consistent challenges to Michael Andretti’s stable. However, the race turned sour for another championship contender as James Hinchcliffe had his GoDaddy.com Chevrolet snap loose and get into the fence leaving Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay left to duke it out for the win. Katherine Legge spun in turn 2 with two laps to go ending the race under caution giving Ryan Hunter-Reay his second win in a row. With Power and Hinchcliffe having issues in the race and the late fade by Scott Dixon, the points were shaken up greatly in after Iowa. Power maintaned the points lead by three points over Ryan Hunter-Reay with Dixon maintaining third and Helio Castroneves leapfrogging Hinchcliffe to 4th in points.
CONGRATULATIONS TO RYAN HUNTER-REAY AND ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: WINNERS OF THE IOWA CORN INDY 250