Random Thoughts On Iowa

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Well…that was an improvement. I’m not going to say I was exhausted at the end of the race from all of the side-by-side racing in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on Sunday, but it was entertaining – especially, the first half of the race. Once Dario Franchitti took the lead for good from Ryan Briscoe, the suspense sort of went away as Franchitti scored his second victory of the season.

Two separate incidents took out three mostly irrelevant cars before the first lap was completed. Then while racing for the lead, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon tangled – flattening Dixon’s left rear tire while Helio lost his front wing. Both were lucky to continue. Keep in mind that I am an Helio fan, but my take differed from Scott Goodyear’s. I thought Dixon was coming down on Helio about the time Castroneves drifted up the track. Although Dixon didn’t necessarily like the outcome, he was fairly sporting about it during post-race interviews.

Tomas Scheckter had the drive of the day. He passed seven cars on the first lap before the yellow came out, all on the outside. He maintained his march toward the front and even battled for the lead. He ultimately finished a solid sixth, one lap down. Hideki Mutoh drove to his second straight podium finish in corn country, driving to a quiet and mostly invisible third place result.

AGR Woes: One of the bigger surprises of the day, and the season for that matter, was Tony Kanaan’s self-inflicted problems. For the third year in a row, Kanaan found the turn-two outside wall. He admitted this one was probably his fault, but it was his third DNF in his last four races. Less than a month ago, Kanaan was the points leader. Now he is mired in seventh place, seventy-nine points behind points leader Ryan Briscoe.

The cars at Andretti-Green continue to be plagued with problems. Marco Andretti had a wing failure, which put his car into the wall in practice. Kanaan had a tow-link break at Indy, which caused a hard crash while running third. At Milwaukee, a fuel line came loose to set his car on fire. I’ll never forget the 2005 Nashville race where three of the four AGR cars curiously suffered suspension failure. The one that didn’t was Dario Franchitti, who won the race. Is this poor preparation or coincidence? I don’t have the answer, but in some cases it has cost the team race wins.

Next Year: Going into this race, there were questions whether or not this race would return on the IndyCar schedule. A press conference took place yesterday morning, prior to the race. There it was announced that negotiations are taking place that will bring the IndyCars back to Iowa for at least the next two years, although the contract isn’t signed yet. That is good news as this venue has now produced two of the better oval races in the past two years. It is very well attended and the track layout allows for good racing.

There was another interesting tidbit that came out of that press conference. IRL Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt announced that next years schedule would probably feature nine ovals and nine road/street course. That’s interesting because this years ratio is ten and seven respectivly. That means that one oval will be going away. As far as the road/street courses go, he elaborated enough to say that the two new venues would not be former Champ Car tracks.

That means that Cleveland will not be included in 2010. One can assume that one of the two will be in Brazil. Speculation at TrackSide Online centers on the other being at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, AL. On a personal note, I hope that is true. I attended the test at Barber this past March and it is a beautiful facility. The layout might lend itself to little passing, but what else is new – especially on a road course? It is a very picturesque setting and a much needed race in this part of the country, since Nashville lost our race.

I’ve expressed my opinion on the mixture of ovals and non-ovals. To me, at least half of the races should be ovals…preferably more. If Angstadt’s prediction holds true, the IRL will be dangerously on the edge of that ratio. I enjoy natural terrain road courses, and would love to see Road America return someday. I tolerate the street courses because they make financial sense, but I still prefer the majority of the tracks being ovals. Here’s hoping that the league never dips below that fifty percent threshold. That was one problem I had with CART’s schedule in the early nineties. Ovals only made up about one-third of their schedule and I though it hurt them.

TV Coverage: As critical as I have been of ABC’s IndyCar coverage (and rightfully so), they stepped up their game just a bit from Milwaukee. That’s not to say they were perfect, but I saw no real gaffes yesterday. Let’s just say they were adequate.There were a few too many commercials, but nothing significant was missed. Jack Arute had an excellent post-race interview with Ryan Briscoe where he got Briscoe to admit that he may have been too conservative on pit-in/pit-out.

General impressions: Overall, the Iowa race was an enjoyable event to watch. Even though the top two positions on Sunday were still between Penske and Ganassi, there was some variety near the front. Before lap 150, there was no clear sense who might win. There were some legitimate green-flag passes for the lead that didn’t involve pit stops or re-starts. Three of four AGR cars had their time up near the front, as well as cars from Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold. It’s unfortunate that Ryan Hunter-Reay didn’t get a chance to show what he could do in Foyt’s car, but he deserves credit for being positive in his interview. It’s also frustrating that the cars from Newman-Haas are not more of a factor.

It’s still a tight points race between the top four cars. Danica Patrick lost more ground to the leaders but remained in fifth, but barely…Dan Wheldon is just five points behind her. It is a short week this week, especially for teams that have damaged cars. The teams have to re-group and trek halfway across the country to be in Richmond by Thursday, for a Saturday night race on Versus. I still maintain that this four week stretch which we just started will be critical in determining who will be there to battle for the championship at the end of the season. Richmond is a track that can change the complexion of the championship in an instant. It should be an interesting week.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Iowa”

  1. George,

    You summed it up well. The first half was very entertaining, until Dario and Briscoe put the sleeper hold on everyone. I have to say the Iowa track is a really nice place. Check out my pics and comments from the race on my blog here.

    http://20prospect.wordpress.com/

    I am glad to hear Iowa may stay on the schedule. They really put the effort into promoting the IRL race and deserve to stay.

    I’m bummed to hear they may drop an oval off the schedule.
    Tom

  2. Road America over Barber any day. I think motorcycles have trouble passing on Barber. There has to be a track in the south that will offer entertaining racing. “No boring than Snorenoma or Detroit” shouldn’t be the criteria.

    • oilpressure Says:

      I agree, but for some reason the powers that be don’t see fit to even discuss Road America. I’ve never been there but it is my favorite road course to watch. Atlanta Motor Speedway, Road Atlanta, Charlotte or even returning to Nashville are better sites in the southeast that would offer better passing than Barber…but the IRL doesn’t seem interested in any of those venues. –GP

      • Cleveland is another track where I wonder, “where’s the love?” I know that getting tracks on the schedule isn’t as easy as many fans make it but that’s been a head-scratcher. That Mid-Ohio is also on the sked surely doesn’t help Cleveland’s chances, I admit. I wonder if the series would dare alternate dates in certain regions or if that’s a no-go.

  3. If they give it a try and TV ratings don’t suck and attendance is good, then what do I know? Those should always been the criteria, in that order. I doubt the ratings will be there, though. I hope they get some agreements up front and in writing with the track to make it at least somewhat better IndyCars.

  4. Hey George,
    A decent enough race on Sunday – the best of the year for me so far.

    There was one thing that did irritate me though and that was Jacques Lazier – for reasons that have been reported many times, the field is low on entrants for a number of races this season; but surely there have to be some pay-or-sponsorship drivers out there that are better than JL and Stanton Barrett.

    A shame though that it got strung out a little beyond the half way point, but 150 green flag laps and 128 green flag laps in Iowa?? Commendable…

  5. I missed the first part of the race but managed to see much of the pre-Dario/Ryan dominance. I had somewhat low expectations of the race but aside from the crashes, I enjoyed myself. The most interesting part of the telecast that I saw was that they didn’t just show Danica for most of the stint when she was leading. They got a couple of shots but it was refreshing to see ABC to take a hint from Versus in giving fans at home glimpses of battles when there’s little interesting up front.

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