Random Thoughts On Iowa
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.