The grueling string of races is nearly over as the paddock descends on picturesque Newton Iowa to contest the Iowa Corn Indy 250 under the lights on Saturday night. Our yearly stop in Iowa has become one of the most anticipated rounds of the season; a favorite for fans and drivers alike. Dare I say it; Iowa Speedway may be the next open wheel stronghold outside of Indianapolis. We definitely need one now that Texas looks to be on such shaky footing. It’s so nice knowing that on Saturday night the stands will be jam packed with die-hard race fans draped in indycar and USAC gear. The fans out there know their stuff and aren’t afraid to show it. Newton has become a destination town for the most avid of indycar fans; it’s already on my bucket list. Simply put: this race rocks.
Five Things to Watch
How Fast? – During the initial test at Iowa Speedway, Will Phillips guessed the car would be “comfortably quicker” than the good ol’ IR07. In 2007, Scott Dixon wheeled one of the old sleds around the 7/8th mile oval with a speed of 182.360 miles per hour. Since the initial test back in September of 2011, INDYCAR has opted to take some downforce out of the chassis to break up the non-existent pack racing in Iowa. I am not totally sold on the idea that the racing really needed much help, but it should make for yet another interesting evening of high-speed action. The speed gained from laying the wings back will quickly be negated as the tires start to lose traction over the course of a run, and should allow the racers to rise to the top. This is one place that I would really like to see speeds faster than what drivers were able to do last year.
Tiny Texas? – As with every oval race we have encountered this year, the main question entering the weekend will be: What will the racing look like? The DW12 seems to force drivers to actually drive the car no matter where it is raced; all year the racers have bubbled to the top and left the pretenders behind. Because mechanical grip will be at a premium we should see something more akin to what was seen at Texas given the banking of the track. It has been proven week in and out that the new chassis can complete passes on the high side; throw in the progressive banking and we should have possibly the best race of the season on our hands.
Qualifiers! – I refuse to call them heat races. You race in heats to qualify for the main, but here everyone gets to play when it’s all said and done. Ideally I would have liked the winners from the P9 and below races to receive a berth in the pole run, but we need to do this in baby steps. No matter what you say, these races on Friday night are going to be awesome. We know there are teams without a backup so I’m sure they will play it very carefully, but these are racers we are talking about. The pole race has a real possibility of being a barn burner. We will probably see most of the better funded teams find their way into the eight man shootout, and these are the teams with chassis to burn. There is still 10 grand and a single championship point up for grabs.
Alex Tagliani – The man is a machine. Since skipping the Sao Paulo round in preparation for the Indy 500, Tags hasn’t finished worse than 12th and has since passed four drivers in the points standings who have contested every race this season. He has been on pole and the team’s consistency has been bulletproof since they received their shiny new Honda engine. Although he sits in 19th place in the championship down 146 points with no realistic shot at the championship, the pressure is off. Bryan Herta Autosport can use the remainder of the season as a glorified test session and could play into the championship by seasons end if they can get closer to the front and start stealing points from the contenders. After a sLotus start to the season, BHA and Tagliani are primed for a killer second half.
Oval Championship – Iowa marks the penultimate race for the AJ Foyt Oval Championship. Would you believe me if I told you that James Hinchcliffe leads the standings over Tony Kanaan by a mere seven points? My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw that, but that’s what consistency gets you. Briscoe, Wilson(!) and Hunter-Reay round out the top five with a spread of 25 points from P1 to P5. Castroneves, Franchitti and Rahal are all tied for sixth just three points back from P5. Two reactions immediately come to my mind. What the heck is going on with the ovals? And, this is an awesome championship spread! This weekend will be the last chance to grab some points before Fontana, nearly three months down the road. I’m curious if anyone actually cares about these minor championships, but I think they make a really cool addition to the completion of a season.
Pole – Justin Wilson – Apparently you never bet against Wilson on an oval. It would be very fitting if he was able to race his way to the pole on Friday night.
Winner – Tony Kanaan – The KV Racing Team has been quite strong this year; it’s only a matter of time before one of them finally takes the checkers. TK needs to find victory lane this year and he knows knows how to get there in Iowa. He deserves to be the first.
Epic Performance – James Hinchcliffe – He could do it… I’m just saying…
Biggest Loser – Will Power – Prove me wrong…
Welcome to the second half, isn’t it great to kick it off in Iowa? This is the final oval before we embark on a 5 … or 6 … race stretch of road and street courses; the championship contenders better take all the points from Will Power this week because he will come back with a vengeance in Toronto. But then again, this is Will Power we are talking about; the guy knows how to drive. And if his comments regarding finally “getting it” on ovals are founded in reality, the field may be in some trouble this weekend. I would not put it past Power to start his championship blitz a race early this year. This is also the final week of the epic back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back five week run of races. Enjoy your week off boys and girls of the indycar paddock; you have all earned it.