Last week, the gentlemen over at Andretti Autosport flexed their muscles and took first, fourth, and fifth at the Milwaukee Mile. Ryan Hunter-Reay started second, kept pace in the top 5, and had a car that surged in the second half of the race, taking the top spot and never relinquishing it. While E.J. Viso and James Hinchcliffe may not have been as dominant, they were nonetheless strong, and it was clear Andretti had something figured out. Oh, and the fourth car, driven by Marco Andretti, started on pole and led early, only to have an electrical issue ruin his day.
Why rehash all of that? Well, the series hits Iowa this week, and it should be another chance for Andretti to take over a race. Though Milwaukee and Iowa are not carbon copies, they both can be considered small – and though Milwaukee is flat, Iowa is not supremely banked. Sure, what worked at The Mile might not work this week, but there’s a pretty good chance it will.
The Penske teams seemed to do pretty well, though earning second and third, making them the potential foil to Andretti. Lost from this duel is Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Though Scott Dixon may hold the fifth position in points, the team’s cars have been rather forgettable this season. Everything goes in cycles (or ovals) and it’s looking like they’re off, but maybe Honda has something in the kitchen and they’re going to send it Ganassi’s way soon.
This race features something notable for the series – heat races to determine the starting positions. There will be three races to set the lineup, with their starting grids determined by qualifying laps. The first race features those cars who qualified ninth or worse, and are even-numbered while the second has the odd-numbered cars. The final race consists of the top 2 finishers from each race and the top 8 qualifiers. Got that? It will be interesting to see how hard some of the drivers push their equipment in those events.
Located in Newton, Iowa, about 30 miles from Des Moines, Iowa Speedway first opened in 2006. Modeled after Richmond International Raceway with Rusty Wallace’s guidance, the track is 7/8ths of a mile long and features 10 degrees of banking on the frontstretch, 4 degrees on the back, and 12-14 degrees in the turns. Dario Franchitti won the first IndyCar race there. The last three races, however, have been won by Andretti cars, further backing the notion that they should do well there.
What’s The Points? Drivers
Helio Castroneves maintains the top spot in the standings thanks to his runner-up finish last week. It’s Ryan Hunter-Reay who’s made the biggest move, taking the second spot with his victory in Milwaukee, and is only 16 points back. Sitting in third is Marco Andretti, 50 points back. Then comes Takuma Sato, 76 back, and rounding out the top five is Scott Dixon, who’s 78 points off the lead.
What’s The Points? Engines
By taking the top-5 positions at Milwaukee, Chevrolet is holding strong. The result, however, seems a bit misleading, as it was not the engines but the setups of the Andretti and Penske cars that seemed to be the real factor. Whether or not there will be much of a difference in the engines at Iowa is probably unlikely.
Driver To Watch
At this point, Takuma Sato is no longer a surprise. That he is fourth in points is a testament to this notion. His strong run at Milwaukee, where he finished seventh, is also an indication that the one-car A.J. Foyt Enterprises team is one that can race, wheel-to-wheel with the big names. As the season hits the midpoint, this race is important for Sato if he is going to remain within reach of the championship chase. Though it’s still early for that chatter, it’s also not, and with the cars heading back to road courses, where Sato should excel, this race is vital.
Quiet week thus far. Oriol Servia and Ryan Briscoe continue their tango with the Panther Racing car, with Servia taking the wheel this week. Aside from that, there’s um, well, um, the weather?
Who Ya Got?
Having continued to be wrong all year, I’ll go with Hunter-Reay, who seems like a driver that is comfortable, confident, and coming on strong. Toni Montgomery thinks that Tony Kanaan is likely to win, while Matt Stallknecht sees Marco Andretti returning to form and capturing a second career victory in Iowa.
Possibly the most intriguing race of the schedule: Pocono. The race will be held on July 7th, airing on ABC at Noon EST. The IndyCars have not made a trip to Pocono since disco was popular (or something like that), so the 2.5-mile, triangular track should prove a challenge. Look for a more in-depth feature on IndyCar and Pocono coming soon.
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