The midsummer stretch run for the IndyCar Series is in full force beginning this week at the Iowa Speedway. After a rare off week, the first time since before the Japan/Long Beach double-header weekend in mid-April, drivers and teams will embark...
The midsummer stretch run for the IndyCar Series is in full force beginning this week at the Iowa Speedway. After a rare off week, the first time since before the Japan/Long Beach double-header weekend in mid-April, drivers and teams will embark on six consecutive race weekends on a mix of three ovals and three road courses.
While drivers were enjoying their time away from the pressures of the track, some of the newer teams were still working to complete assembly of backup cars just received for the first time this season. Only Conquest Racing, of the six fresh teams to IndyCar this season, previously has had a backup available to them. That came in quite handy after Jaime Camara crashed his primary car the second day of rookie orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month.
First up on the stretch is the second race at the nearly nine-tenths mile oval at Iowa Speedway. Last year's race was, if not farcical, sorely lacking in value for the capacity crowd that showed up at the track roughly in the middle of the heartland corn fields. A cold day and a lack of setup sheets produced a bevy of crashes and at the end of the race, only nine of the 19 starters were running with only five of those on the lead lap.
Despite the floods that have drowned and ravaged portions of Iowa, notably Cedar Rapids, the Newton area has not been affected and plans are to continue with the race as scheduled. The race plans are faring better than the aforementioned corn fields, which have taken a beating from the floods.
Although the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council has pulled its presenting sponsorship of the race, Iowa still serves as a home event for the power of the series and its respective driver and team for Rahal Letterman Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"If we had a home race, it would be this Iowa race," the defending series and Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year offered. "I've been looking forward to it for a while. It's a shame with the flooding and everything like that. I'm on my way up there today to go up and do a couple PR activities, then try to help out a bit with the aid there in Cedar Rapids."
After Iowa the series goes to its shortest track, the three-quarter mile bullring at Richmond. There have been five previous winners at the circuit the last five years; included are Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti who have won the last two events there. Of course the only racing at Richmond those two have done lately was in their Sprint Cup cars.
The road race at Watkins Glen is next up and Scott Dixon has been the only winner there since it was instituted in 2005. The two races this year requiring right turns as well as left were contested on the concrete canyons in St. Petersburg and Long Beach, and each was won by a "transition driver". The latter of course was the finale for the machinery of the Champ Car World Series, which recently auctioned off its remaining products.
The night race at the 1.3-mile concrete oval at Nashville follows afterwards with two more road courses at Mid-Ohio and Edmonton completing the brutal stretch. It is already put up or shut up time during this run in the quest to catch Dixon in the championship chase.
The New Zealander's points lead has grown to 35 points over Helio Castroneves. Dixon's been unstoppable this season winning three races, four pole positions, and leading over half the laps.
Castroneves must be itching to return to his fence-climbing ways. Castroneves looks to return his "Spider-Man" moniker to prominence having not won a race since St. Petersburg in 2007, some 22 races ago. On the bright side, he is the only driver to have finished in the top five in all his starts this season.
Their respective teammates are on different rolls of late. Ryan Briscoe has erased some of the negative press and commentary with consecutive top- three finishes including a brilliant drive to his first win at Milwaukee, while Dan Wheldon was busy barrel-rolling his special-liveried Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara in practice at Texas and recovering to finish 4th in the race.
Needing to make a solid impression on the field and perhaps within his own team this week is Marco Andretti. Andretti has been involved in controversial dust-ups the last three races, with late-race crashes the last two causing yellow-flag finishes. Andretti has ran in the top five on each oval event this season except for Japan, but has only three top-five results for the record.
Others to keep an eye on in Iowa besides the series' "big four" (Dixon, Castroneves, Wheldon and Tony Kanaan) are Hideki Mutoh and Buddy Rice. Mutoh, the fourth and often forgotten member of the Andretti Green Racing quartet, currently leads the crowded rookie-of-the-year standings on the strength of four top-ten finishes the last six races. Rice has given his underfunded Dreyer & Reinbold team a lift with three straight top-tens and finished fourth in this event last year.
Down the grid a bit, Roth Racing will continue to field John Andretti in its second car in place of Jay Howard for this race, the fourth consecutive. Rumors abound this will stretch to the end of the season. Team owner/driver Marty Roth made the finish for the first time this season last time out in Texas, finishing 22nd several laps in arrears, yet rumors of the demise of the second part of that title are mostly for naught.
But perhaps Hunter-Reay described the upcoming six-week test best, having been in a former series that focused on the diversity of circuits. "I love going to a road course, then to an oval, then to a street circuit, then to a short oval, then to a road course, then a superspeedway," Hunter-Reay said.
"That's what I like the most. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps the teams on their toes. It makes for really interesting racing over the span of the season. That's what I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to that bouncing back and forth. You have to change your driving style from track to track."
The grueling and diverse summer stretch kicks off Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on ABC.