Officials with the IZOD IndyCar Series clearly liked what they saw when they tweaked the qualifying format for last year's Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway.
And, after a special announcement Monday afternoon, you have to think they really like what they see at Newton's seven-eighths-mile oval in general, too.
For this year's race, scheduled for Sunday, June 23, IndyCar officials are expanding upon the three "heat race" qualifying process, allowing drivers to move up to a pole-deciding third heat race. The heat races will be held Saturday, June 22, at Iowa Speedway.
“We wanted to change things up a little with our oval qualifying format so we introduced heat races in 2012,” series race director Beaux Barfield said. “We did it in a way that was relatively conservative in terms of the onus that was put on teams by having to run in one heat race ... Based on positive fan response and feedback, we decided to take it one step further to improve the show and put some value in it for the competitors with points.”
Last year, Dario Franchitti earned the pole position and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who went on to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, won the race from the seventh starting position.
In the heat races, as they were implemented at Iowa Speedway last year, drivers ranked one through eight by combined practice times and race results determined the first four rows of Sunday's race in the third heat race. The other drivers were placed alternately in the first and second heat races, based on their combined practice times and race results.
“Heat races at shorter tracks such as Iowa Speedway recall the heritage of oval track racing,” Barfield said.
Last year, the heat races were 30 laps each. This year the heats will each be 50 laps, and the top two finishers in each of the first two heats will run with the top eight drivers from individual time trials in the third heat.
Single-car qualifying will be reinstated to set the heat fields. The top six will go straight into heat three, with the rest of the field divided for heats one and two. A blind draw will determine the qualifying order for single-car time trials.
“IndyCar’s new heat race format for our Iowa Corn Indy 250 assures that the three 50-lap qualifying races will create some of the most exciting, edge-of-your-seat racing of the weekend,” said Doug Fritz CEO, Iowa Speedway. “Race fans won’t want to miss any of the three heat races on Saturday, since the finishing order of each one will be critical in setting the starting grid for the ‘big show’ on Sunday.”
It could also prove critical for the season-ending championship standings, as well. Last season, Hunter-Reay edged out Will Power for the series championship by just three points.
Beginning this year, the top 12 qualifiers — not just the pole winner — into the Iowa Corn Indy 250 will receive championship points based on their finish in the third qualifying heat. The Indianapolis 500, the signature event of the IZOD IndyCar Series, is the only other race with a points framework that rewards points to anyone other than the pole winner based on starting position.
“The fact that IndyCar is now awarding championship points for our qualifying heat races on Saturday, June 22, is very significant,” Fritz said. “Not only does that set the Iowa Corn Indy 250 apart from other IndyCar races, but it also guarantees that the drivers will be racing hard for the win in all three heats.”