Before getting into this weekend’s race at Iowa, I wanted to pay homage to one of the great men in recent IndyCar history. Carl Haas, co-founder of Newman/Haas Racing lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease on June 29th, at the age of 86 – although most of us just learned about it yesterday.
Along with co-founder Paul Newman, Haas made Newman/Haas Racing an instant contender when they began competition in 1983 by hiring Mario Andretti as their driver. Following a third place finish in their very first season, Newman/Haas won the CART championship in 1984. Overall, Newman/Haas won eight CART/Champ Car championships with five different drivers, their most recent coming in 2007 – the last year before open-wheel unification.
In 2008, the first year for unification – Newman/Haas was the only transition team from Champ Car to win races (without counting the Champ Car finale run at Long Beach). Graham Rahal gave the team a win at St. Petersburg, while Justin Wilson won later in the season at Belle Isle.
The 2011 season would be the last for Newman/Haas. Oriol Servia started the season as the sole driver for the storied team, but in the second race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park – rookie James Hinchcliffe joined the team. Newman/Haas was competitive to the end. Servia finished fourth in points, while Hinchcliffe finished twelfth. The team ordered a pair of DW12’s for the 2012 season, but abruptly announced in the offseason that they were suspending operations due to a lack of sponsorship. The plan was to return to IndyCar competition in 2013, but that never materialized.
Carl Haas cast a very large shadow in open-wheel racing. Long before his heavy involvement with Newman/Haas Racing, Haas began his racing career driving sports cars in 1952. He was an owner in various series in the sixties and seventies. It was also in that time frame that Haas formed Carl A. Haas Automobile Imports, Inc. Among the many cars represented and distributed by Haas, the most famous was probably Lola, which became one of the most dominant brands in motorsports.
The sight of Carl Haas chewing on an unlit cigar during races was one of the more colorful images in racing for almost thirty years. Although he had not been to a race in several years, his loss will be felt throughout the IndyCar paddock. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Now, as for this weekend’s race…
The Iowa Corn 300 will run this weekend at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. It’s hard to believe that this weekend will mark the tenth IndyCar race at Iowa since it opened in 2006 and hosted its first IndyCar race in 2007.
Think how far back that is. When Dario Franchitti first won at Iowa on June 24, 2007 – the first generation iPhone was still a few days from being released. George W. Bush was still in The White House and there were still two open-wheel series vying for the public’s attention. Almost no one had heard of a thing called Twitter and Facebook was accessed only by teenagers. To put things into an even more startling perspective, IndyCar was still allowing two competitive chassis to run, although the Panoz (g-Force) was only run at Indianapolis a couple of months earlier. By the next season, the Dallara IR-03 would be mandated as the only chassis allowed.
Nineteen cars started that first race in Iowa. Only five of those nineteen drivers will start in Sunday’s race; Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Only ten cars finished, with all but two leaving as a result of contact – Milka Duno and Vitor Meira.
Fast forward to this weekend and there are several interesting storylines heading into the two-day weekend. First, is the schedule itself. For the most part, this is usually a night race. The last time it was run during the day was in 2013. It will be a late afternoon (4:40 green flag, local time) race on Sunday this year. For local fans, this will be a two-day show – practice and qualifying on Saturday, race on Sunday. This is no different than the normal two-day event if the race ran on Saturday night, but it will feel weird to have no track activity at all on Friday.
It will also be interesting to see if the Verizon IndyCar Series can capitalize on the momentum it gathered at Road America two weeks ago. Common sense says they can because there are usually good crowds and good racing at Iowa. The 0.875 mile oval is banked 12°-14°, while the front-stretch has 10°of banking. Such a configuration lends itself to terrific racing, for whatever reason.
Speaking of momentum, can Will Power continue his streak of winning two consecutive races that ran to their conclusion? The smart money says probably not. This will be Power’s eighth race at Iowa. The first two went OK, where he finished ninth and fifth. But in his last five races at Iowa, Power has fared no better than tenth, and that also includes a twenty-first place in 2011 and a twenty-fourth place finish in 2012. It’s safe to say that Iowa is not one of Will Power’s better tracks, so I’d be very surprised if he won.
Power is chasing Simon Pagenaud in the points battle, and I would be surprised if he won also. Pagenaud has raced at Iowa four times. He placed fifth in his first race in 2012. Since then he has done progressively worse each year and finished fourteenth last season. Though Power may not win, he may actually make up ground on Pagenaud with a good finish this weekend.
Helio Castroneves has an interesting season going. He is currently second in points, but no one is talking about him. He is the only Team Penske driver to not win a race this season, but he has been very consistent. In nine races, he has four Top-Five finishes. His lowest finish was the second Detroit race, when Roger Penske opted to have him run one more lap while leading, before pitting. It cost him big-time because a yellow came out just after Helio passed up the pits. He finished fourteenth in a race he should have won. I don’t think Helio will win on Sunday, but I think he will have another strong finish.
Another contending driver that may have a shot on Sunday is Graham Rahal. This will be Rahal’s eighth race at Iowa. His first four trips did not turn out so well, seeing him finish anywhere from ninth to fifteenth. But starting in 2013, Rahal has ripped off a fifth, seventh, and fourth place finish consecutively. Don’t be too surprised to see Rahal continue his streak of strong finishes at Iowa.
Then there is the team of Andretti Autosport. Michael Andretti’s team has won the last six straight races at Iowa and have won seven of the nine IndyCar races that have run there. The other two races were won by Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008 and 2009, by Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti respectively. Tony Kanaan started the streak for Andretti Autosport in 2010 and it continues today. Marco Andretti won in 2011, while Ryan Hunter-Reay won in 2012. James Hinchcliffe drove the Go-Daddy car to victory in Iowa in 2013 and Hunter-Reay has taken the last two in a row to complete a six-year sweep.
I’ve seen where many think that Marco Andretti has a strong chance of winning on Sunday. I don’t see it. Just because he won his second and last career race at Iowa five years ago, doesn’t mean lightning will strike twice. Marco Andretti is in a horrible slump and mired in seventeenth in points. His highest finish of the season is ninth in the second Detroit race. Overall, he has an average finishing position of 13.77. He finished a forgettable twelfth. I just don’t see Marco coming out of this slump anytime soon.
Ryan Hunter-Reay has lost three out of the past four races at Iowa. He has had some decent results this season, with three Top-Four finishes – but other than the Indianapolis 500, he has not had a car that I would call quick enough to win. He finished fourth at Road America, but I never considered him as a threat to win the race. I think he’ll again be decent at Iowa, but that’s about it.
I am thinking that Carlos Muñoz may be more than decent. We all know how close he came to winning the Indianapolis 500. He also won the pole at Texas. This will be only his third race at Iowa. Muñoz finished twelfth in 2014, but finished fifth last year. Carlos Muñoz seems to like the ovals and I would not be surprised at all to see him win on Sunday.
But my pick to win on Sunday is a driver that people are just now starting to notice what a strong season he is having, and that is Tony Kanaan. He has had only one finish out of the Top-Nine out of the nine races this season – and that was the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where he finished twenty-fifth. He finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and was strong at Texas before the race was halted.
Since his Iowa win in 2010 that started this current streak of Andretti Autosport, Kanaan has reeled off a second and three straight third place finishes, although last year he finished twenty-first. He finished second at Road America and seems primed to have a very strong summer. He also seems motivated to prove that he can still get the job done at the ripe old age of forty-one. Being an old goat myself, I’m hoping he can prove his doubters wrong. I predict he will carry the NTT Data car to victory on Sunday as he continues his resurgence.