Iowa – Heat and Horsepower

Photo: Josef Newgarden leads the field back to the green flag on a restart during the 2018 Iowa Corn 300

The Iowa race has had an unusual history. The date has jumped a bit- last year it was on July 9. From 2007-2013 the race distance was 250 laps. It has been a 300 laps race since 2014.  There have been  day races and  night races . For 2019, I’m not sure what  to call it exactly. Twilight race? Late afternoon event?

The Iowa 300 begins at 6:15 pm  local time and will finish before sundown. This hardly makes it a night race.  We won’t see the cool down that comes after dark which causes the handling characteristics of the cars to change. Iowa is spectacular at night.

Fans clamored for the race to return to Saturday night from  Sunday afternoon, mostly so that they could have all day Sunday to travel home and be ready for work on Monday.   They  got their wish-sort of. I know several fans from Indianapolis who stopped going to the race because of its Sunday date.  They are returning to Iowa this weekend.

Many factors will make this an interesting race.  The temperature will be in the low to mid 90’s at race time, which means a slick race track. The cars will have extra boost, 700 horsepower, as a further test of driving skill. There should not be any flat out laps. Then, of course there is the championship battle to consider.

Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by just four points after Toronto. Simon Pagenaud is now just 39 points behind, and Scott Dixon trails by 64. Dixon, one of three entered drivers who has competed in all 12 races here, has never won at Iowa. Newgarden won in 2016. Pagenaud won the pole in 2016. The pole winner has never won at Iowa.

Rossi did not sound optimistic about his chances for success this weekend in a post-race interview after the Toronto race. In three Iowa races, Rossi has a best finish of sixth.

Other former winners in the field this weekend are Marco Andretti (2011), Tony Kanaan (2010),  Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012, 2014, 2015), and James Hinchcliffe (20113, 2018). Hunter-Reay is the only driver to win consecutive races.

If you want to pick the winner by teams, Andretti Autosport has won seven times, Team Penske and Chip ganassi Racing two times each. Ganassi’s last win was in 2009 with Dario Franchitti. Penske’s two wins came back to, but the first one wasn’t until 2016 with Newgarden. Helio Castroneves won in 2017 in what turned out to be his last win in the series.

Carlin Team of the Future?

Conor Daly and Sage Karam will drive for Carlin Racing at Iowa. Daly drove for Carlin at Texas, and Karam stays in the car after hid debut at Toronto. Karam finished 21st last weekend. It was his first time on a street course in four years. In his last Iowa appearance in 2015, Karam finished third.

If the money and sponsorship comes together, these two could possibly make up the future of Carlin Racing. Karam seems to have some sponsorship.  Daly has never had much money to bring. Consider Iowa another audition call back for both drivers.

Beating the Heat

Iowa Speedway sent an alert to fans reminding them to drink plenty of water. Fans may bring an unopened bottle of water into the track or an an empty bottle.  Water filling stations are located on the concourse. Fans may also bring in a soft sided cooler no larger than 14″‘x14″x14″. The track has set up misting stations and will have a cooling trailer.

Picking a Winner

This has always been a tough race to call. There have been races when one car was clearly superior to everyone else. Races have been won by pit  strategy. Team Penske and Andretti Autosport seem to have this track figured out better than most.

I look for Josef Newgarden to win and extend his points lead a bit. Newgarden dominated most of last year before James Hinchcliffe, who also had a strong car, got past him.

Iowa Schedule:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/90591962/posts/2347451191

 

Karam and Daly Driving for Carlin at Iowa

A tweet this afternoon from Carlin Racing:

I think this is could be the makings of a great team for 202 if the money is there.  Karam may still be tied to Dreyer and Reinbold for the Indianapolis 500, but he could possibly drive for Carlin the rest of the year.

I know Daly wants to drive for Andretti, but with the news that Rossi looks to be staying, there is no room for him except for an Indianapolis one-off.

Daly drove for Carlin at Texas and finished 11th. Last week at Toronto Karam drove the Carlin entry. He started and finished six laps down in 21st. It was his first road/street course race since 2015 and he had never driven at Toronto.  Karam has driven in the Iowa race.

Iowa will not have a title sponsor this weekend. According to Adam Stern, a couple possible sponsor deals did not come through. Stern also mentioned that ticket sales are up a bit.

Ferrucci, Chase Briscoe Promote Iowa with Habitat Project

From Iowa Speedway:

VIDEO NEWS RELEASE: NASCAR and INDYCAR Drivers Build Home with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity

Drivers pitched in to help a future Habitat family to kick off Iowa Speedweek

NEWTON, Iowa (July 9, 2019) – NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe and NTT IndyCar Series rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci joined Iowa Speedway staff and the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity for a day of rehabilitating a home on Des Moines’ northside. The Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, all-embracing Christian ministry committed to improving homes and facilities for disadvantaged families.

The drivers were in town to promote Iowa Speedway’s first ever back-to-back race weekends – Iowa Speedweek – featuring the NTT IndyCar Series Iowa 300 on July 20 and culminating with the NASCAR Xfinity Series U.S. Cellular 250 on July 27.

Download b-roll and interviews via direct video link courtesy of Luminary Creative – Des Moines, Iowa: http://bit.ly/HabitatIowa

 

 

Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

Indycar News and Notes

Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.

It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.

Mo Nunn

Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.

A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.

My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:

https://oilpressure.wordpress.com/

Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.

Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.

Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.

Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.

Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio

I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.

I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.

Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season.  Stay tuned

 

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

Indy 500 2018 190

Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.