IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from Iowa Speedway 2017

The Big Picture:  Back in the long ago – that’s 2007 – when the Verizon IndyCar Series was more oriented toward short track ovals, the idea to have a race at a speedway 40 miles from Des Moines made lots of sense. Designed by NASCAR veteran Rusty Wallace, the .9-mile course was popular in Iowa for a time.

Event:  But now, attendance of less than 7500 including teams and workers is what we’re getting in Iowa. This is troubling in the extreme. We guess if the series is receiving its sanctioning fee, nothing more needs to be said.

Qualifying:  Short track oval qualifying is only marginally more exciting than watching paint dry, but in this race’s qualifications, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud went out first, and the session was bookended by his teammate, Will Power, who took the pole at 1.5 MPH faster than second place qualifier JR Hildebrand.

Race:   Helio Castroneves led 217 out of 300 laps in a dominating performance that left most of the paddock with often rueful smiles on their faces. JR Hildebrand started and finished second place, proving he can run at the front. Ryan Hunter-Reay had his best performance of the year while claiming the final step on the podium. There were only three single car accidents which took their drivers out of contention without anyone getting injured. Overall, a nice race day.

Biggest Surprise:  Castroneves’ win, his first since Detroit in 2014. It was his 30th IndyCar Series victory. Back in the day. Castroneves was brought to Team Penske after the sudden death of Greg Moore in 1999. He and Roger’s partnership is one of the longest among current IndyCar drivers and team owners.

Biggest Disappointment:  The poor attendance.

Best Team:  Team Penske took their first victory in Iowa. They took the pole, and their four drivers finished in the top seven.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  The Iowa Corn Promotions Board, the group who have promoted this event from the start.

What We Learned:  That nice 42-year-old Brazilians can finish first. That you can build a top-notch speedway facility and hardly anyone will come. That Chevy has the short ovals dialed in.

Schedule:  Next Sunday, July 16th, the circus goes to Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto.

Quotes of the Weekend:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Iowa Corn 300 winner): “That was great. I can’t thank enough Team Penske, Hitachi, Chevy car group and all our partners, and especially the people in the shop. They don’t get much credit, but without their work and effort, we wouldn’t be able to do what we did. And again, it’s a great team effort because we came here, we tried a lot of different setups between all four cars, and man, I picked the winning one, so it was really good. The car felt really good, and it was just great. In the beginning we missed a little bit on the setup, then we made some adjustments after the first stop or second stop, and the car was fantastic. It was really good. It was a long time (between wins), but you can never stop believing, and my team never stopped supporting me on that and today was great. Everything went great. We didn’t have a yellow at the wrong time, we didn’t have issues with the tire or anything else or mechanical. Everything was really, really good, and when you have a day like this, you’ve got to execute.

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I wish we could have gotten the Verizon Chevrolet to Victory Lane, but I don’t feel bad at all with where we ended up. It was a good day. Not unhappy at all. The car was pretty loose on that second to last stint, but very good on that final stint. We got another solid finish and scored some important points. But the story of today is Helio (Castroneves). I’m mega happy for him. It’s really kind of ridiculous that it has taken this long with how good they’ve been. Something always seemed to bite them, but not today. I couldn’t be happier.”

ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ (No. 18 UNIFIN Honda): “It was really, really fun. It was a very nice experience. Obviously being the first time on an oval, I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the race and I struggled to get up to speed, but after a few laps, I got more and more comfortable and I was using my tools in the car to try to handle it in traffic, which is the trickiest part. I want to thank my competitors because they were very fair to me. It was fair racing, good racing and I really enjoyed it out there today. It wasn’t easy with the different lanes and traffic because once you get really close you have a completely different car so you need to anticipate a lot and for that you need a lot of experience. Every time with more and more experience I will be able to anticipate that better, but I think today was a really good start. I also want to thank the team because they were really good on giving me all the tools and the information on doing a good job today.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “That was a tough drive. We just made the car better and better through the whole race and I wasn’t really happy with the car at all. I have to give big credit to my team and my engineer, Ray Gosselin, for putting the right setup on the car. We finally got it to where I like it – some remnants of the past. A little more straight-line speed and we could’ve given these guys a run for their money. Congratulations to Helio (Castroneves) – it’s great to see him win again. He’s been right there knocking on the door for so long. Hats off to the No. 28 DHL team and thank you to all the Iowa fans, we love coming here. Hopefully we can come back here at night some time, because that is my favorite.”

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By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.