Friday, June 21, 2013

Storylines: Iowa Corn Indy 250

INDYCAR makes its annual journey to Newton, Iowa this week for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. With defending Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay coming off a strong victory at Milwaukee and trailing Helio Castroneves by only 16 points in the standings, this is an event where momentum could either be gained or lost very quickly.

Iowa’s always a fun race, even if it isn’t quite the same when it isn’t under the lights. The bullring is tricky, chock full of great racing, and usually lends itself to some very memorable duels. Let’s go to some of the storylines for the weekend:

Qualifying: Ok. I think I get how this works.

(Deep breath)

The biggest thing to take away is that points-wise, qualifying matters for Iowa. As in moreson than usual. Your polesitter for Iowa is going to get 9 points, P2 will get 8, and it decrease by 1 from there, with P11 and P12 getting one bonus point apiece.

So how do they get there? First off, we start with a one-lap qualifying session Saturday for everyone. The Top 6 qualifiers from that go immediately to Heat Race 3, which will discuss further in a minute.

What about the other 18 drivers, Positions 7-24? All the even-numbered positions (P8, P10, P12…) will race in Heat 1. The odd-numbered positions (P7, P9, P11…) will race in Heat 2. The top two finishers in each of those two heat races will get to go to transfer to Heat 3. So you’ll have your Top 6 qualifiers, Top 2 from Heat 2, and Top 2 from Heat 3 comprising the 10-car field for Heat 3.

The results of Heat 3 will give you your Top 10 for the race. Meanwhile, all the remaining even positions on the grid will be determined by the remaining results from Heat 1, and the odd remaining positions will be rounded out from Heat 2’s results.

Each Heat wil be 50 laps. Bottom line:

-If you are one of the Top 6 qualifiers in one-lap qualifying, you will instantly secure a spot in Heat 3.

-If you aren’t in the Top 6 after one-lap quals, but finish P1 or P2 in Heat 1 or 2, you get to race in Heat 3.

-Heat 3 will determine the Top 10 starting positions for the race, with the other two heats rounding out the field on an odd/even rotation.

-Qualifying is worth up to 9 points, and qualifying positions all the way through P12 can grab some points this way, so it behooves everyone to actually try in the Heats.

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If you need to take a minute before reading on, I understand.

Marco’s Big Moment?: Marco Andretti hasn’t put a wheel wrong that much this year, but after mechanical woes at Milwaukee, he finds himself 50 points out of first place for the season title. At this point in the season, that’s still very much in contention, of course, but one of his biggest opportunities to move on up should be this weekend. He’s finished P1 and P2 here the last two years, and this is simply one of his best tracks on the entire schedule. With the extra qualifying bonus points at stake, this could be a huge weekend.

Don’t Forget TK: Tony Kanaan’s history here is very similar to Marco’s. They’ve both won, and have both come agonizingly close to winning. Both have great results at this track. I said after Indy I don’t believe TK is done winning this season, and another Andretti/Kanaan duel for victory Sunday would surprise no one.

The Driver Carousel Continues: Ana Beatriz is in for a second straight week for Dale Coyne (she won the Lights race here back in ’09), while Oriol Servia gets another crack at Panther while Ryan Briscoe is off at a certain race in France. Panther has had some really good finishes at Iowa, and Servia was in the Top 4 here in 2011-2012. They could have another really good day.

Simona Struggles?: Simona de Silvestro started the season off in fine form, finishing in the Top 10 in three of the first four races. But after Sao Paulo, her finishes have been P17, P16, P24, P16, and P24, and she’s dropped to P18 in the overall standings. Through her IndyCar career, the Iron Maiden has never recorded a Top 10 on an oval, so she’ll be fighting history if she plans on turning things around this weekend.

Firestone Indy Lights Update: After a good battle at Milwaukee, Lights continues its oval stint with the Sukup 100 Saturday night. Carlos Munoz still has the championship overall lead by only 18 points, but Sage Karam is putting up a good fight. He’s also won the last three seasons in events at Iowa, so he has an excellent chance to narrow or even eclipse Munoz’s lead. Looking through the rest of the field, Zach Veach will try to build on his strong Milwaukee to move up the standings, and Jack Hawksworth will try to find some traction after a brutal start on the ovals this year.

Let’s also talk for just a second about the HUGE news that INDYCAR is selling Indy Lights to Dan Andersen. As a Mazda Road to Indy fan, I really think this is a great move. Dan Andersen obviously has deep experience with USF2000 and Pro Mazda as part of his ladder series credentials, and he’s a guy who can work with manufacturers and bring costs down. The rest of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has been immensely enjoyable the past few years, and even the entry-challenged Lights series has put on some great racing and produced some excellent racers. I look forward to see just what he can do.

Livery Watch: Helio Castroneves will return to the black-and-red Hitachi livery, while Dario Franchitti will be in a primarily black-and-yellow Glad design—quite a depature from Target Red! Tony Kanaan will be sporting the extremely nice Sunoco livery. Josef Newgarden, meanwhile, aside from adding Hurco to the car, with also have Go Wichita featured prominently on his sidepods.

Pole Pick: Assuming I actually understand how qualifying will go, I’m going with Marco Andretti.

Winner Pick: I like Marco to get a win here, too.

Dark Horse Pick: EJ Viso. He is driving so well, and this could be his week. Additionally, it’s surprising few folks are discussing Scott Dixon, who has been knocking on the door here for the past few years, but I’m still not ready to give a Target Ganassi dark horse status.

Somewhat Relevant Stat: Ed Carpenter had last year’s fastest race lap at Iowa, at 181.479 mph. Oh, and Helio led the most laps last year, by far.

Somewhat Irrelevant Stat: The Iowa Corn Indy 250 goes around a .875 mile track, so the official race distance is 218.75 miles. No rounding allowed in Iowa.

Elsewhere: Watching 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend? It’s ok—this is one of those events where it’s totally understandable if it gets a big chunk of your attention. Keep an eye out for a whole host of INDYCAR alumni doing their thing—a list that includes Mike Conway, Martin Plowman, Bertrand Baguette, Ryan Briscoe, Ho-Pin Tung, JK Vernay, and quite a few others with open wheel ties.

As always, if you’re reading this Friday morning, make sure to get your IndyCar Fantasy picks in by 10am ET. Have a great weekend, and make sure you have plenty of coffee for Le Mans, too!

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