Friday, June 22, 2012

A-maize-ing Racing: Iowa Corn Indy 250 Preview

The IZOD IndyCar Series finishes off its June cornucopia of oval events with the Iowa Corn Indy 250. One of the most exciting and competitive races on the schedule, last year’s duel between Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and eventual race winner Marco Andretti was an instant classic. This year promises more of the same, as the drivers should be given a challenging, on-the-edge car to drive.

It’ll be a late night for fans watching on NBC Sports Saturday evening, but it’s a small price to pay for one of the truly excellent races on the schedule. Here’s a list of storylines for IndyCar fans this weekend:

Qualifying Changes: Perhaps the biggest change will be the format of qualifying. The Series is trying out heat qualifying Friday night, and the basic idea is that three heat races of 30 laps each will determine qualifying positions for the main event. The drivers will be divided into these heats based on their times from the second practice session. Race 1 will determine the even-numbered positions of P10-P24. Race 2 will determine the odd-numbered positions of P9-P25. Then, Race 3 will see the 3 fastest drivers from second practice battle it out for spots 1-8. We’ll have to see how it works, but as a 30 lap dash, it could be pretty exciting!

Engine Penalties: Mr. Kanaan and Mr. Viso will each have a 10-grid penalty due to engine changes from the last race weekend. That said, with the nature of Iowa, that might not mean very much with the way this race is projected to go. It does mean we’ll also probably be in line for one of TK’s patented crazy passes at the green flag. Never has an engine penalty brought so much good news for fans!

Title Update: The good news for Will Power seems pretty extensive just now. Through Milwaukee, he's hung in on the ovals, and still leads his closest competitor, James Hinchcliffe, by 31 points. Yet with the way the season has gone, he's not out of the woods yet. Still, if Power hangs in at Iowa and gets a nice result and Hinch or contenders like Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay falter, things could close up in a hurry. It's not too late to count out Dario Franchitti from the title hunt, but he's 69 points behind Power, and hasn't looked quite in the same form we saw at Indy as of late.

Marco's big Iowa night in 2011.
Courtesy IndyCar Media
Oval Stint Nears End: With three out of the last four races being ovals, Iowa will mark the end of the main oval portion of the schedule for a bit. The AJ Foyt Oval Championship will still be decided on Fontana, but barring a late addition to the schedule, this will be the next-to-last oval race of the year. Currently, James Hinchcliffe is leading the oval trophy battle with 108 points, with Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe 7 and 12 points back, respectively. Also keep an eye on Justin Wilson, who is only 16 points back in P4. Iowa will obviously have a lot to do with which driver becomes this year's oval champ.

Marco, Continued: As mentioned last week, Marco Andretti has still not managed to nab a Top 10 finish this season. However, he won at Iowa last year in memorable fashion, and he’s the sort of driver that seems to spontaneously catch lightning in a bottle now and again. If Marco wants to finish anywhere near the top part of the standings, he needs to start showing better results immediately. We’ll see if he can recapture the magic of last year’s Iowa experience.

The Lotus Saga Endures: No, you didn’t dream that. Simona de Silvestro’s Lotus HVM machine was able to outqualify someone last week in Milwaukee. While she had an early end, another short track at Iowa could give at least a glimmer of hope that the black flag can once again be avoided. It’s been hard to watch that crew struggle, but with any luck, their upcoming engine update will give them a hand.

Lights Update: Our favorite Viking returns with Bryan Herta Autosport this weekend, as Anders Krohn rejoins Firestone Indy Lights after a disappointing mechanical issue at IMS on Carb Day. Esteban Guerrieri narrowly trails rookie Tristan Vautier in the standings, but won the pole here last year. Don’t forget, Bryan Clauson will not only be driving for Fan Force United this weekend, but will also be driving a USAC Midget at the track as well.

Star Mazda Update: If you missed it, check out Wednesday's article on the great Star Mazda fight that will carry into Iowa.

Random Fact: EJ Viso's average finish in 2010 was 17.4. In 2011, it was 17.9. In 2012 so far, it is 13.4.

Pole: Scott Dixon. If it’s about letting the drivers drive, he’ll have that well in hand.

Winner: Kanaan is so close to a win right now, he could reach out and touch it. I’d also expect the Andretti cars to have a good outing and contend here.

Dark Horse: I could see Justin Wilson being strong again with the aero package we expect to see this week. This hasn’t been one of his best tracks, but the Coyne team has looked pretty speedy at Indy, Texas, and Milwaukee now. Let’s see if that continues.

Iowa is usually a bright spot on the IndyCar calendar, and there's no reason not to expect more of the same this weekend. Enjoy the race, whether it's at the track or on the couch!


  1. Ken @AbuelosDeTreceJune 23, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Nice article Zack! I kind of liked the heat race thing, but it was lacking something. Besides taking too long between the individual heat sessions, I think if Indycar is going to use this in the future, they should have the top one or even two cars in each of the first two heats move to the final race for the pole. Using last night as an example (and if my memory serves me correctly), the fastest car in heat race 3 was running 181+ MPH on their best laps. In heat race 1, the fastest car was also running 181+ MPH, but in heat race 2, the fastest car ran a 183+ MPH lap. Wouldn't it have been interesting to see some fast cars start from the back in that final heat? I think so!
    I also agree that Tony Kanaan is very due to win a race, and so is KV Racing as a whole. I wouldn't count out anyone on that team. The other driver that is overdue is Oriol Servia. I think he's passed more cars this season than anyone else.

    1. Zachary HoughtonJune 23, 2012 at 2:17 PM

      I really like your idea on the heat race, Ken. That'd be a big incentive, and if they continue with it, I hope they adopt it.