The IZOD IndyCar Series season is starting to heat up following a very entertaining race at last Saturday’s Milwaukee IndyFest. Sunday’s Iowa Corn 250 at Iowa Speedway will mark the 10th race of a 17-race season, and there is one driver in particular who should feel more comfortable at Iowa Speedway than any other.
With the Iowa Corn 250 on the horizon, Ryan Hunter-Reay came away with a victory at Milwaukee on Saturday. The win for the 32-year old Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native was his second in nine races so far this season, tying James Hinchcliffe for the most on the circuit. He currently sits in second place in the IndyCar points standings, just 16 points behind first-place driver Helio Castroneves.
Hunter-Reay’s victory in Milwaukee repeated his performance from last season, when he drove the No. 28 car for Andretti Autosport.
Hunter-Reay’s record at Iowa Speedway speaks for itself. He has raced five times at Newton’s 7/8-mile racing venue, finishing in the top-10 four times, highlighted by a win in this same event last year. If history is any indicator, Hunter-Reay could find himself atop the IndyCar points race come Monday.
Hunter-Reay appreciates the nuances provided by the track. As he points out, it’s unlike any other short track in the nation.
“It’s such a unique oval,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling getting around there, almost never getting the wheel straight. And with the banking that you have on such a short track like that, the radius of the corners are so tight that it allows for some side by side racing, and on a track that’s short, it’s unheard of.”
The excitement of having to stay on his toes seems to appeal to Hunter-Reay’s competitive nature. His success at the speedway most likely has a lot to do with the feeling he describes from racing there. When an athlete gets charged up like that, he can be difficult to stop. Knowing the track suits his competitive nature and his driving style makes it easier for Hunter-Reay to appreciate the unique challenge that the track presents.
“It’s a unique place, and one that you really have to wheel it because of the bumps in turn one and two,” he said. “You’ve got to always stay on top of that, and the car changes a lot. So from the time you put all the fuel in to the time you’re coming in for new tires and a full tank of fuel, it changes so much, more so than most racetracks we go to. So I love it. It keeps you on your toes as a driver, and it’s very challenging.”
A big change to the points race and the Iowa Corn 250 this season is IndyCar’s decision to award points based on qualifying. This week’s heat races will become just the second qualifying heats to be worth points this season, the first being qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
Several drivers have been on the fence regarding this somewhat dramatic change in the importance of qualifying, and Hunter-Reay is no different. He saw a few issues presented by the qualifying last year that he feels need to be tweaked in the spirit of more exciting racing.
“To be honest with you, I’m not quite sure what I think about it,” he said. “Last year the problem with the heat races was the tires, when the tires were new is when we’re doing our racing, so everybody had full grip and the racing wasn’t very exciting. Well, as you saw in the race, the racing can get really exciting about halfway through the tire run to the end. So that in my opinion needs to be tweaked, but we’ll see. We’ll give it a go this year. We’re trying to get the right balance there and make it exciting on the day before the race.”
Qualifying heats for the Iowa Corn 250 will begin at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, and the drivers will be starting their engines for the big show at Iowa Speedway at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday.