It wasn’t the longest winless streak among active Indycar drivers but it was the one that had the most attention. Helio Castroneves hadn’t won a race since Race 2 at Belle Isle in 2014, 55 races ago. I did not think he would ever win again because of his age, his penchant for getting in-race penalties, and the sometimes strange strategy his team used. Sunday, however, he put it all together for a dominating win, beating J. R. Hildebrand. Hildebrand pitted early on his last stop hoping to cycle to the front when everyone else stopped on schedule. He may have pitted a couple laps too early. His older tires were no match for Castroneveves’ fresh rubber once Helio passed him. J. R. had trouble lapping Alexander Rossi, allowing Castroneves to zip past.
This was the cleanest oval race of the year. Mikhail Aleshin’s single car spin was the only hard hit of the day. The other cautions were for wall scrapes by the Foyt cars and for rain, which eventually led to a brief red flag. The long green stints had the leaders in constant traffic which made for a fun race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay had his best drive of the year, finishing third from his 15th starting spot. Points leader Scott Dixon, on the other hand, had a difficult weekend, starting 17th and struggling to an 8th place finish. He leads Castroneves by 8 points heading to Toronto next weekend. Honda should have a better time there than they did in Iowa. It was a decent race, processional at times, with several on track passes for the lead. There were some great battles all day, especially the one between Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, who finished fifth.
Iowa is great track and the racing is a lot of fun.The race needs to be on a Saturday night. Temperatures will be cooler, the cars look so much better, and the racing is so much better. Iowa was a night race before nascar went to Kentucky. Nascar should move their date. I know that won’t happen, so Iowa and Indycar should mutually find a different Saturday. This race works better after dark.
The crowd, while somewhat better this year than last, was still meager. I heard ticket sales were 10% better this year. There is still a long way to go to get the attendance back to the first few years. I have several friends from Indy who can’t go to this race because they have to be at work Monday morning. Driving straight home from Iowa will get most people back to Indianapolis around 2 am. If it has to be on Sunday afternoon, have the race began around noon. That time works great for Road America. But a Saturday night race is the best option.
The red flag for moisture was appropriate. However, at that late point in the race I thought the yellow was out too long. Even under caution at Iowa laps go quickly. With less than 100 to go, the red flag should have come out sooner.
Saturday morning there was a lot of confusion at the ticket window. Fans didn’t notice the schedule said the grandstands didn’t open until 1 pm. Most, like me, assumed they would be open for the first Indycar practice at 10. Fans were allowed to go to the infield and view practice from the fan walk for free. usually there is a charge for the fan walk. Last year I watched the first practice from the grandstand. It seems Iowa Speedway changes their policies every year. they need more transparency about their policies. On a positive note, they solved my ticket issue smoothly.
I was happy to read that Indycar will conduct a test at the newly repaved Gateway Motorsport Park August 3. Each team is allowed one car and one driver. I’m glad they are attempting to avoid another debacle like the race in Texas. Now about those downforce levels…
Silly season officially began this weekend with Robin Miller’s story about Castroneves running sportscars full time for Penske plus a one-off for the 500. Team Penske stated no decision has been made. Media was requested not to ask Helio about his future at the winner’s press conference last night. I don’t know why they couldn’t ask and get a non-answer.
I’m very excited to hear that Phoenix and Long Beach will be on back to back weekends next year. That is a road trip I would definitely consider. One set of flights, time to go to Vegas and maybe the Grand Canyon make this something to really think about doing.
Back later this week with thoughts on Toronto.