April 24, 2024

Drivers ready for challenge of Iowa Speedway

No racing has been done on the Iowa Speedway track as the one and only race weekend for the 2020 season approaches for the Newton racetrack.

“We call it a green race track as there will be no rubber down but it won’t take long to have rubber on the track,” Three-time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a tricky track and is different every time we come back because of the bumps.”

Three races — two NTT IndyCar Series and the ARCA Menards Series — in two days will be on the 7/8-mile oval track. IndyCar is the longest running series on the Iowa Speedway track, running it’s 14th season at the shortest track the series competes on.

In the coronavirus-delayed racing season, IndyCar announced in April there would be a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway after the lost early races for the series. This features two full points races for the NTT IndyCar Series on back-to-back nights – the Iowa IndyCar 250s.

The first of two 250-mile races under the lights at the Speedway will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday. On Saturday is the ARCA Menards Series Shore Lunch 150 at 4:30 p.m., followed by the second Iowa IndyCar 250 race at 7:30 p.m.

“Iowa has become the most physical track, in my opinion, we race on and now we have to do it twice,” 2011 Iowa winner Marco Andretti said. “But I’m not complaining because we’re driving race cars again. Iowa is a challenging track with it being a short track and the bumps.”

Hunter-Reay is the only three-time IndyCar race winner at Iowa, winning in 2012, 2014 and 2015. In the 2019 race at Iowa, Hunter-Reay was 17th and Andretti ran 21st.

Iowa Speedways’ IndyCar doubleheader is a first for the track and it is the second race of the 2020 season where fans will be in the stands. Following local COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, a limited number of fans — about 5,000-6,000 — will be allowed each night in the 25,000-permanent seat stadium at Iowa.

IndyCar and Iowa Speedway will observe safe social distancing and provide enhanced hygiene and safety precautions for all fans in attendance at the event.

As part of the enhanced health and safety measures for the event weekend, all guests will be screened in their vehicles with contactless temperature checks before entering the parking areas. Only essential racing personnel will have access to the infield.

Hand sanitizer and face coverings will be distributed to each guest when they enter the track, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures will be implemented throughout the facility over the course of the weekend.

Iowa will be the second weekend in a row the IndyCar drivers will will have spectators for their races. When IndyCar opened its COVID-19-delayed season on June 6 at Texas, there were no fans in the grandstand and no spectators were allowed at the road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4.

“It felt great to get back to what we do for a living and it was awkward without fans. It felt more like a testing day,” Hunter-Reay said. “Fans are what makes our sport and we need them back but we’re doing it the right way, responsible way and smart way.”

There were fans spread around last weekend’s doubleheader IndyCar road-course race at Road America in Wisconsin. Andretti and Hunter-Reay, who are Andretti Autosport teammates, talked of having fans at races before and after events.

“When you’re going at 220 around the track,we can’t hear or see them but we know they’re in the stands. I’m happy we’re back to racing and working with IndyCar and the different tracks and locations to follow the proper guidelines,” Andretti said.

Points leader Scott Dixon won the first three races of the season and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist won the second race at Road America on Sunday. Dixon has never won a race at Iowa Speedway but finished second in 2019.

Josef Newgarden of Team Penske claimed the Iowa Speedway gas pump trophy in 2019 for his second victory at Newton. Newgarden won in 2016.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to Iowa as it is one of my favorite race tracks. Our team has developed a strong fan base in Iowa,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ll have to see how the bumps have changed over the winter. The past couple of years the Iowa track has been a bit of moving target for us.”

Setting up the cars to react well to the “character” of a track is important, especially for the lighter and faster IndyCar vehicles. Andretti said his car’s crew has the harder part as it has to find the right set up for the race at Iowa.

“All I do is show up and drive. No, I have mixed emotions going to Iowa where I’ve had my best race and my worst race,” Andretti said. “We go from road courses to a short oval like Iowa and that’s what is cool about IndyCar. The guys who work on the car do a great job and we as drivers of getting in the car and drive it fast on whatever the surface.”

As the season was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, drivers had to find ways to stay in condition. The industry was waiting and hoping racing would get back on track.

“Nothing replaces seat time and being in the car. I just tried to keep up in the gym and keep on my cardio,” Hunter-Reay said. “When things started to open up a little, I was running privately at a race track in Homestead (Fla.) with my racing shifter car to help with my reflexes.”

For Andretti, things were much the same for him at home. He said he was lucky because he has a gym with weights and a rower.

“It’s hard to stay car-fit without being in the car. You can’t practice for the G forces and temperatures but you do the best you can to stay in condition,” Andretti said. “We have a couple of doubleheaders in a row, which will test our endurance.”

Andretti Autosport has won seven of the 13 IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway. That is the most by any racing team in the series.

Iowa Speedway’s Iowa IndyCar 250s are the final night races scheduled for the series.

“Nothing beats an IndyCar race at Iowa under the lights,” Hunter-Reay said.“Running back-to-back at night at Iowa is putting a premium on performances at Iowa with two point races. Iowa is a short track that races like a super speedway.”

Andretti said, “I’m a little selfish because I like that we have night races at Iowa because of how hot it gets there in July. It will help us with the heat.

“It’s going to be a heck of show with the sparks from the cars and the sound. I’m glad the fans will be there to see it. It’s going to be a good show times two.”

ARCA Racing will take center stage on Saturday afternoon at Iowa Speedway. It will be the sixth straight ARCA race after a two-year absence from “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet.”

Chandler Smith won the ARCA race in 2019 and is 10th in points this season. Michael Self is the 2020 season points leader after six races. Drew Dollar and Bret Holmes are tied for second with Hallie Deegan and Thad Moffitt rounding out the top five.

Coming into Saturday’s Shore Lunch 150 at Iowa Speedway, Ty Gibbs is the latest winner on the circuit. Gibbs won last weekend’s ARCA Menards Series race in Kentucky.

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535
or jsheets@newtondailynews.com