5 things I’m watching for this weekend’s Iowa doubleheader

Rosenqvist’s Future

Felix Rosenqvist made it abundantly clear that following his 1st podium in his 2 years that he’s been with AMSP, he wants to stay and is going to do everything in his power to make Zak Brown’s decision on where to use his Swedish driver all the more difficult.

“I want to be where I’m at right now,” Rosenqvist said. “I think Arrow McLaren SP has pretty much become a home for me. Yeah, it’s up to Zak. He’s the man who is making the moves. Probably going to take a couple of weeks before we know more. Hopefully today (Toronto) changed something. My ambition is to keep proving it that way.

“This weekend hopefully makes Zak doubt some things.

Rosenqvist feels like if he was destined to be in Formula E, then Brown would have said something by now. See, when Rosenqvist was awarded last month with a new contract, it wasn’t revealed to where he’d be racing for McLaren at. The contract was with McLaren not necessarily Arrow McLaren SP on the INDYCAR side.

Rumors were swirling that he was destined to go to their new Formula E team. They have 2 seats open there and were wanting an established veteran driver for at least 1 of those seats. Rosenqvist is that for Formula E purposes as he raced there for 2 full-time season in picking up 3 wins in the process.

Even more so when AMSP had already announced Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward would be on the INDYCAR side for multi-year deals earlier this summer and then the recent news of Alex Palou’s signing made Rosenqvist’s future here even more murkier.

But, the Palou situation is maybe even more murkier now with Rosenqvist hinting that the 25-year old Spaniard may not be driving at all next season after all. When the dust settled some last week, I wondered that.

“I don’t know what’s going on there,” Rosenqvist said about Palou’s situation. “At the moment it doesn’t sound like (Palou is) going to race at all. Yeah, it’s up to lawyers and stuff.

“Honestly it’s not my business at all. I think honestly it hasn’t really changed anything. This whole deal went down months ago. I didn’t know all the details of it that I do now, but nothing has actually changed. I think if Zak was sure I was going to FE, he would have already said it. I’m going to take that chance. If there’s a chance for me to be here next year, I’m going to try to prove I can do that.”

I don’t think Chip Ganassi Racing announces Palou’s return, even if they jumped the gun on Palou’s quote, if they don’t hold Palou’s option in 2023. It’s no secret, Ganassi values Palou’s talent and despises Zak Brown. I don’t know if there’s enough money around for Brown to buyout Palou.

I don’t see Ganassi settling to someone like Brown to favor Palou racing against him for a championship here. I don’t see Daniel Ricciardo leaving his F1 seat before his contract is up anymore, meaning there may not be an F1 seat open either.

It’s down to Formula E for Palou and McLaren then and I don’t think a buyout is worth it to stash him there to go against a noncomplete clause.

So, Palou could very well be sitting idle next season if this goes to a lengthy court battle. In turn, that could open up Rosenqvist to staying put after all.

“I’m going to take that chance,” Rosenqvist continued. “If there’s a chance for me to be here next year, I’m going to try to prove I can.”

He told me this past June during a test here at IMS that he felt like he’s driving as good now as ever before in his career.

He has 5 top 10’s in his last 6 races on the year including 4 of which in the top 6. He was 4th in the Indianapolis 500 and 3rd last week in Toronto. He has 8 top 8 starting spots in the last 9 races on the season too.

At this rate, maybe he can save his ride after all…

Scott Dixon at the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach back in April of this year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Scott Dixon Time?

Scott Dixon isn’t in unchartered territory. While he enters this weekend 44 points out of the lead with 7 races-to-go, he’s not out of this thing just yet either. Last Sunday in Toronto was Dixon’s first victory in over a year. However, it was the 18th straight season that he’s found victory lane and 20th year that he’s scored a win too. Both are most ever.

In 2015, Dixon was 63 points out of the lead at the midway mark of the year in 3rd place in the standings but had 2 wins including one in the double points season finale at Sonoma that year to take home the title. He had 7 top 10’s over the final 8 races.

In 2013, Dixon was 7th (-92) and made up enough ground over the final 10 races to have 4 wins, a runner up and 6 top 5’s to make a magical run at his 3rd championship.

“I think the competition has always been tough,” Dixon told. I think for a top 5 to top 3 — top 5 has maybe changed a little bit, but to make it to the podium, I think the competition level has always been extremely tough. Are there more players throughout the field and the depth to it? Yeah, for sure.”

Ericsson has had 17 top 10’s over the last 20 races so he’s going to put pressure on drivers to win to catch him.

“Honestly, I just don’t think we’ve been doing a good enough job,” Dixon told me. “I think that’s what it comes down to. I think when we dissect some of the weekends that we’ve had, we’ve kind of made a little mistake here or we’ve kind of overchanged the car here or I’ve messed up in a corner that starts the lap.

“Then when you break it down now, you’re pretty much getting one or two laps in qualifying that gets the most out of the car. If you don’t hit them right, you’re just not going to press.

“Yeah, I don’t think especially in the last sort of three or four years, I don’t think that has changed too much as far as a category or as a championship. Yeah, I just don’t think we’ve done a superb job this year.”

For Iowa though, Dixon is 0-for-15. However, he does have a pair of runner-ups in his last three tries and fifth place in the other. Dixon, has 5 top eight’s in his last six Iowa starts at that.

Then we go to the Indy road course to where Dixon has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 but no top 5’s in that span either. Nashville could look a lot like Toronto while Gateway could look a lot like Iowa which his why Dixon isn’t out of this yet.

Will Power has won a race in 16 straight years in INDYCAR. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Power, O’Ward Respond?

The closer Will Power moves towards Mario Andretti’s pole record (67-64 right now), the further he also is growing apart. Power was a shoo-in at one point to eclipse Andretti’s record. However, as the series has grown more and more talented, qualifying has grown more and more difficult as a result of that factor as well.

Not only is he not vying for poles like he used to, he’s struggling just to get out of the first round. Granted, not all of this is on pure lack of pace. He’s had it. He’s just having some bad luck.

Power has been in the top 3 of each of the last 3 Saturday morning practice sessions. He’s not made it out of the opening round in either. He qualified 15th in Road America, 21st in Mid-Ohio and 16th in Toronto.

For Mid-Ohio, he had the quickest lap in his group but was docked his 2 fastest laps due to blocking Helio Castroneves. Last week, he was on a lap good enough to advance him on but a caution flew ruining his lap.

Power has started outside the top 10 in each of his last 5 races including 6 of the last 7. He was 19th in Road America and 15th in Toronto. Mid-Ohio he rebounded to a podium but these Saturday’s are hurting his championship chances. He’s now 35 points out.

For O’Ward, he’s had mechanical failures in 2 of the last 3 races (26th, 24th) and lacked speed in Toronto in starting 15th and finishing 11th. That’s 4 out of his last 6 starts on the season that he’s finished 11th or worse now. He’s only had 1 podium in the last 6 at that.

Good news for both is that we have 2 races at Iowa this weekend. Neither have won here, but Power (0-for-13) was runner-up the last time out and has 4 top sixes in his last six Iowa starts. He also finished 3rd last August in Gateway too. Then we go to the Indy road course to where Power has won the return trip in each of the last 2 years before heading to Nashville.

O’Ward has been great in Gateway (3rd, 2nd, 2nd) and was fourth in his first of 2 starts here in 2020.

Marcus Ericsson leads the points and has scored a top 10 in 17 of the last 20 races run. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Marcus Ericsson’s Top 10 Streak

Marcus Ericsson finished 5th last week in Toronto. Luckily for him, he finished head of each of the other drivers in the top 5 in points heading into last week. That’s why his points lead extended from 20 to 35 with 7 races remaining.

Now, can anyone legitimately catch him?

Power (-35) is struggling on Saturday’s. He’s not qualified in the top 10 in either of his last 5 races and 6 out of the last 7. 2 of his last 3 finishes have been a direct reflection of that. Alex Palou (-37) does have 4 top 10’s in his last 5 races but only has scored 1 podium in the last 6 races too.

Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon are each tied for 4th (-44) while Pato O’Ward is a distant 75 points back in 6th. O’Ward has 1 podium in his last 6 and 4 of his last 6 at that being 11th of worse.

Ericsson has had 17 top 10’s in his last 20 starts dating back to last year so if he can continue this trend up, he’s going to force these other guys to win. Just look at what he’s done at the upcoming tracks.

His three Iowa finishes are 11th, 9th and 9th respectively. He has 5 top 10’s in his last 6 Indy road course starts including being 4th back in May. After that is Nashville to where he won at last August. Then it’s to Gateway.

By comparison, O’Ward’s best tracks are the short ovals (3rd, 2nd, 2nd at Gateway, 4th in his last Iowa start) but has struggled on street courses and has no finish better than 5th on the IMS road course.

Power was runner-up the last time out and has 4 top sixes in his last six Iowa starts. Somehow though, he’s winless in 13 Iowa tries as well. He also finished 3rd last August in Gateway too. He has won each of the last 2 IMS road course return trips the last 2 years in dominating fashion making him one to watch.

Dixon has 2 wins in 2 years and winless at Iowa (0-for-15), has just 1 Gateway win and no podiums in any of his last 5 IMS Road course starts. Nashville could look like Toronto so that helps. His teammate in Palou has drama surrounding him and winless all season.

Newgarden may be the top one though. Iowa is his best track. He’s led 111 or more laps in 5 of his last 7 Iowa starts including three wins, a pair of runner-ups, a fourth, fifth and sixth place result in the last eight tries. He’s won 2 of the last 3 here as well as having scored 3 wins in the last 4 short oval races in general counting Gateway. For the Indy road course he has 4 straight top 5 finishes and Nashville is his hometrack. Does he have enough time to close that 44 point gap if Ericsson keeps getting top 5’s and 10’s?

It’s going to take wins.

Will Iowa Test Drivers Physically?

We know that racing an INDYCAR is no easy feat. For the speeds that they travel with the types of tracks that they go to and having to maneuver these courses without any power steering has these drivers as true gladiators. But, will this weekend go to the extreme?

Iowa has always been one of the more physical tracks on the schedule with turning laps around here in less than 20 seconds while going at speeds in excess of 180 mph. The amount of g-forces and strain on your body here is as high as anywhere else we go to.

See, at other tracks at least you get some straightaways to rest some. In Iowa, you don’t. You’re in a bullring and feel like you’re constantly turning and every time you turn, you add strain to your body.

In saying that, we have 2 races this weekend. Both in the heat of the Iowa afternoons with temps in the low to mid 90s each day and the second one lasting 50 additional laps than the first.

How much of a role does this play on the drivers’ fatigue and psyche this weekend?

Plus a pair of day races is rough too. The other day races in Iowa were 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018. The night races here were 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2019 and 2020.

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