IndyCar test at Iowa Speedway valuable despite schedule strain

Drivers, teams in Newton just three days after race at Road America; weather conditions throw wrench in preparation for Iowa Corn 300

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NEWTON — Testing can often be tedious for racecar drivers and race teams. Lap after lap just collecting data isn’t always the most exciting thing, after all.

But to a man, none of the IndyCar drivers or teams at Iowa Speedway on Wednesday were annoyed or bored with being there just a few days after racing at Road America. It’s a strain on the teams and drivers with all the travel, but how unique Iowa Speedway is, every lap drivers can get on the 7/8-mile oval is valuable.

The surface and the conditions are ever-changing, so chasing speed is elusive.

“I know what a good car feels like around this place, so (the test is about) getting a baseline,” said 2013 Iowa Corn 250 winner James Hinchcliffe. “It’s (a) very difficult (turnaround). The nature of this season, with in-season testing increasing significantly from last year has led to a lot of quick turnarounds. There hasn’t been a week in the last eight I haven’t been in a racecar. It’s awesome; in a lot of ways it’s great. But there’s no doubt it takes its toll on everyone involved. Physically it’s hard on me and my body, but all the mechanics are working late and have the same amount of travel.

“It’s been a bit of a brutal haul for us. The May through July grind takes its toll on teams and drivers.”

The change this season from an evening race to an afternoon race made Wednesday’s test crucial, as well.

 

Simulating race conditions is always a priority at a test session, so when teams hit the track Wednesday morning and then were halted by a rain shower midday, it forced everyone to pump the proverbial brakes on how they tune the cars.

Ambient temperatures being close to 20 degrees lighter and track temperatures close to 40 degrees lighter improves handling immensely, so there could be a false sense of security in how a car behaves over the slick, bumpy surface of Iowa Speedway. Teams and drivers take that into account.

The fortunate part, Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves said, is “everyone is in the same boat” in working with the given conditions.

“We don’t know what we’re going to have when we come back, right? That’s the biggest variable is we don’t know,” said three-time Iowa Corn 300 winner and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. “This morning when we were on track, for this time of year, during the day, with cloud cover and it being pretty cool; that’s about as good as it’s going to get. We have to be careful dialing the car around that too much because it could be a lot worse when we come back if the temps are up.

“When the sun’s out, it’s a completely different racetrack. We have that in mind, we just have to be careful with every change we make.”

Andretti Autosport has won the last six races at Iowa Speedway — three from Hunter-Reay and one each from Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Hinchcliffe — and seven of the nine races run overall.

Their stable was happy again with how the cars performed at the test on Wednesday, prompting former Andretti driver Hinchcliffe to joke to laughs in the media center that Andretti Autosport “should be banned from testing (at Iowa Speedway). I don’t think it should be allowed. I don’t think it’s fair. But no one asked my opinion.”

But the test was important for their newest driver, Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who still is new to oval racing. That much was illustrated by his wreck in Turn 2 during the test Wednesday. Rossi backed his No. 98 Honda into the Turn 2 wall after the rain delay. He was in the media center before the wreck, and said learning the characteristics of Iowa Speedway took some time, and that every lap was worthwhile.

 

“Ovals are still new to me, so I’m still trying to find out the idiosyncrasies of each one,” Rossi said. “Phoenix was kind of similar, and that was my first oval, so I guess that was a bit more stressful than this has been so far. It’s no secret this place is bumpy and the car wants to get away from you, so I think over a whole race distance it makes it challenging.”

The strain on time and variance in weather aside, the other thing about Wednesday that kept drivers in good spirits was the simple fact of getting to be in the racecar.

Hinchcliffe is the best example, given his forced time away from the car after his near-fatal injuries suffered during practice for the 2015 Indy 500. They might not have been racing and it was a day away from home and their families, but the benefits were too great to ignore.

All of it stands to make next weekend and the Iowa Corn 300 that much better for everyone.

“Certainly after missing last year it’s great to be back. I love this track,” Hinchcliffe said. “From my perspective, it’s just so nice to be back to work. Good, bad or indifferent; whatever kind of day we have, it’s nice to wake up and go drive IndyCars.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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