IndyCar descends on Iowa Speedway for testing
The stars were out at Iowa Speedway on Tuesday afternoon, and it wasn’t even a race weekend.
Some of the top names of the IZOD IndyCar Series were present for testing and media advances, discussing anything from the Indy 500 to this year’s heat races before the Iowa Corn Indy 250 to Iowa Speedway’s future with IndyCar.
The series will make a stop in Milwaukee this week, the second in a line of three oval races concluding with Iowa Speedway next week. With a close points race that has first and 10th place separated by 100 points, any given race could shoot a driver into a top spot or see them fall because of a bad performance.
“The points race is very tight and could swing one way or another week to week,” IndyCar points leader Will Power said. “Lots of years we’ve led up until the last few races, so we understand how things go. We just need to keep to being smart and whatever’s going to happen will happen.”
Downforce was a frequently-used word throughout the day as the IndyCar Series made it a focus for last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, and the results were favorable for drivers and fans alike. Texas’ high banks are more comparable to Iowa Speedway than the relatively flat surface at the Milwaukee Mile this weekend, but drivers already have downforce and other adjustment on their minds.
“Certainly you learn, and with the first oval of the season in Indianpolis, everyone is in the same boat,” said three-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves. “At Texas, IndyCar was able to change some of the rules to get less downforce, which was interesting, but very tough. You’re still learning the car and understanding with different configurations of the downforce, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Even though it was more unpredictable, most drivers seemed to agree that less downforce seemed to provide a better race. That adjustment could still come at Iowa Speedway before the Iowa Corn Indy 250, which the drivers believe could yield a similar result to what happened at Texas.
“I’ve had some good races here. I think the philosophy of driving flat-out is wrong, and that’s what it is here right now,” Power said. “I love the track, but I think the formula of the car needs to change so it makes us drive more and we’re not wide open the whole time.”
The other big-ticket discussion item for the day was the upcoming heat races, which will be a first in IndyCar and will decide the starting positions for the race in lieu of the traditional single-car qualifications. Adding excitement is one of the main justifications for the heat races, at least according to the higher-ups.
“The thing we’re doing here that’s so important is these heat races,” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said. “You’re going into the heartland of America and almost every dirt track, I can amost guarantee, has heat racing. I think you’re bringing that grassroots of the heartland of America to IndyCar. That should be a signature part of this event.”
However, the drivers showed a little bit of hesitation on the topic. Sure, the heat races will provide a more exciting preview to the race than traditional qualifying, but the possibility of incident during the heat races was a subject that couldn’t be avoided.
“For me, luckily I was able to win it from 17th last year, so I just want to bring it home from the heat race,” said Marco Andretti, 2011 Iowa Corn Indy 250 champ. “Obviously it would be great to start from the front for less chance to happen during the race, but normally at a place like this, the good car should go to the front.”
“It’ll be interesting, and maybe it’ll bring more people out the day before,” Power added. “It’s a lot to go through just for a group position, so we’ll see how it goes. I hope it doesn’t make things dangerous out there with everyone going for the pole.”
On the track it was business as usual as a handful of drivers, also including Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe among may others, began their preparation for the race itself, including navigating the infamous bumps around turns 1 and 2. The bumps provide any racing series a challenge, but it seems to stick on the minds of open-wheel drivers just a little more.
“It’s actually not as bad as it looked on TV when I watched the Nationwide race,” said Dario Franchitti, 2012 Indy 500 champ and two-time winner at Iowa Speedway. “I really thought it was going to be tough, but it wasn’t that bumpy. Turn 2, obviously, is the big problem still, and we need to get the car working over there. I think it’ll be the same old Iowa and I think last year’s race was incredible.”
With recent talk of the future of Texas Motor Speedway with the IndyCar Series, and the decline of ovals in general, Bernard faced questions about Iowa Speedway’s future with the series as well. Due to the implementation of heat races and the desire to keep ovals in the series, Bernard sounded optimistic about the speedway’s presence in the series for years to come.
“We think Iowa Speedway is a great place for us,” Bernard said. “I think first and foremost, you have great fans that sell it out. I go back to how we define our sport _ we have to be the fastest and most versatile racecars in the world, and the fact that the drivers are doing the speeds they’re doing on the ovals is a huge part of our sport, and we have to continue to have a very complimentary schedule of ovals and street and courses.”