The Iowa Corn Indy 250 has quickly developed into one of the best and most well-attended races INDYCAR goes to. Each of the previous four races has either been a sellout or near-sellout. Additions of the USF2000 and Star Mazda Championship Series have also packed the weekend and make it a showcase for all of INDYCAR (USAC Silver Crown will replace USF2000 on the bill this year).
However, this year’s race is decidedly different in one important element: it will run at night. This will be the first time it will be run under the lights, which will mean different conditions than what competitors are used to.
What’s more, Friday’s opening practice is scheduled for the heat of the day (12:00 local time), with the only night-time practice later that the evening (7:30, again local time). Even though Texas Motor Speedway follows a similar schedule, high-banked superspeedways tend to be more about outright speed than handling. Iowa’s status as a short oval means that handling will be critical, with the ideal setup allowing the car to drive the track as if it was a superspeedway.
Tony Kanaan, defending race winner, sums up all of the challenges the unique oval presents. “Iowa is a great track to drive, but very challenging. You've got to find the speed but still be careful with the bumps and the tight races in the corners,” he explained. “It doesn't help that you often don't know what you're going to get with the weather, as well.”
Of course, the track remains a favorite, even with all of the variables it has. “I will tell you though that none of that takes away one bit from how much fun it is to race here,” Kanaan added. “It feels the fastest of all the tracks that we race, even Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and every driver will tell you that they love the excitement that comes with driving this track. The GEICO - KVRT - Lotus guys are carrying a lot of momentum into this race, so that coupled with my experiences here, both good and bad, is hopefully going to put us in a position to be real contenders for the Iowa Corn trophy that my son wants me to bring home so badly!"
Castroneves Looking to Continue Turnaround
To say that Helio Castroneves endured a tough start to the 2011 season is an understatement. Twice at fault for multi-car pileups (St. Pete and Long Beach, with the latter involving teammate Will Power), he drew the ire of fans, drivers, and even officials, who began keeping a closer eye on Castroneves’ driving. Add in enormous struggles at the Indianapolis 500 and Castroneves was enduring one of the worst seasons of his career and definitely his worst since joining Team Penske in 2000.
However, finishes of 10th and fourth at Texas’ Twin 275s put a stop to the bleeding, momentum that he carried into Milwaukee last week. The three-time Indy 500 winner led late in the race and seemed set for victory before a flat left-rear forced him to pit. He finished ninth, but was happy to simply run up front again. “It’s disappointing and we certainly could have finished higher, but after the season we’ve had, I was just very happy to be out there fighting for the win,” he said after last Sunday’s Milwaukee 225. “Good job by the No. 3 Team Penske guys. We’re definitely getting there.”
However, the quick turnaround heading into Iowa will put them to the test. “The way the Milwaukee and Iowa races are scheduled presents some challenges to Team Penske,” he explained. “Since our race shop is located in North Carolina, there is not enough time to drive from Milwaukee to North Carolina, turn the cars around, and then drive to the Iowa race. This means that the trucks will drive from Milwaukee directly to Iowa and the crew will fly to Iowa a day early to prepare the cars for the race. The team had to plan for this before leaving for the Milwaukee race, which meant loading more spares than they usually carry and bringing some extra parts too.”
Still, Castroneves and the Penske team are confident they’ll continue their momentum. “While this trip does require a little more planning it really isn’t a big deal for the team because they are true professionals and they always get the job done right.”
Castroneves finished second in last year’s running of the Iowa Corn Indy 250.