Iowa Speedway offers a bit of old school

IndyCar drivers love the challenge of high-speed, short track racing

IndyCars head down the backstretch during the IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 250 at Iowa Speedway last season. Drivers like the old school feel Iowa Speedway offers. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
IndyCars head down the backstretch during the IndyCar Series Iowa Corn 250 at Iowa Speedway last season. Drivers like the old school feel Iowa Speedway offers. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

The IndyCar Series is full of variety.

From the tracks to the drivers, there’s something for everyone wherever the top United States open-wheel series goes. There are Colombians, Brazilians, French, English and American drivers. There are enclosed road courses, street courses, ovals and triangles (Pocono only has three turns).

But when the series rolls into Iowa Speedway each year, as they will Saturday night for the Iowa Corn Indy 300, it’s something totally unique. It’s a 180 mph-bull ring, and it’s unlike any other place they visit.

“It’s a fun, short oval, but it’s a lot of handling. There’s bumps that make it tricky for an IndyCar, and it makes it very difficult,” said 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. “With the speeds we’re running, we’re pulling 4.5 lateral G-forces through the corners, which is just insane. It feels like you’re turning the entire time, like you’re almost down in a soup bowl. It’s an incredibly busy race.

“It’s one of the toughest ovals we go to.”

At 4.5 G-forces through the corner, that means the driver is experience pressure 4.5 times their weight. So through the turn, a driver’s head has approximately 50 pounds of forces exerted on it.

But the drivers can’t get enough of the 7/8-mile track in Newton, and the vast majority love seeing the event on the schedule, including Hunter-Reay, who won the then-Iowa Corn 250 in 2012. For many, the race and track are a throwback.

Iowa Speedway’s characteristics are the very definition of American racing, with close quarters and the aforementioned high speeds.

“Racing in IndyCar and in America is a little more old school. It’s kind of raw,” said rookie Jack Hawksworth, who will return to competition at Iowa Speedway after missing the Pocono race with a heart contusion suffered in a practice crash. “Everything about it is more old-school. The ovals are a bit more dangerous, and I like the fact that there’s some danger it in — not because I’m some daredevil or a lunatic or anything like that, but I just feel like there needs to be that (fear).”

The skill set it takes for IndyCar drivers to be successful on ovals is a stark departure from what it takes on a street course or enclosed road course. Like road courses for NASCAR, ovals are a bit of a specialty in IndyCar, and there are so-called “ringers” like Mike Conway, who only run them.

So for a driver like Simon Pagenaud, who has two wins on street courses this season at the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the Grand Prix of Houston, ovals aren’t his first love.

Growing up racing karts in Europe, his definition of old school is a bit different. But that doesn’t change how he feels about racing at Iowa Speedway. The road course ace has two top 10s — a fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2013 — there, and said he loves the challenge ovals — and Iowa Speedway in particular — present him.

“You always have to guess what you’re going to get from the racecar, and you’re in for a surprise every time,” Pagenaud said. “I started racing at eight years old in go-karts, so I have 22 years of experience on road courses. This is only my third year on ovals, so it’s a process.

“It’s a very different skill set. It’s very technical — a lot more technical than it (looks) on TV. I enjoy it, I really do.”

Iowa Speedway has been on the IndyCar schedule since it was open to full-time racing in 2007.

And if it’s up to the racers, the race date won’t go anywhere. It’s a valuable asset to the series, and helps test drivers in every way possible.

“I think it’s very, very important,” Hunter-Reay said. “It covers that side of the schedule. It’s the short, banked oval. We don’t have anything like it. We don’t race anywhere like it. And it puts on a show, which is the best part about it.

“It needs to be on the schedule, for sure.”

The Iowa Corn Indy 300 is set for 7:30 on Saturday night.

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