How will this weekend’s INDYCAR doubleheader at Iowa will likely race? My take

NEWTON, IA — The heat is on. The cockpits of these 26 NTT INDYCAR Series machines will feel like an oven for the pair of races at the Iowa Speedway on Saturday and again on Sunday. That’s going to play a role into how these two races will look.

Some drivers are electing to use a cool suit. Some may not. The cool suit adds between 6-7 pounds. By adding weight, the slower the car may go. Those without the cooling device will surely be faster. But for how long?

“Yeah, I think this weekend is without a doubt going to be the hardest we’ve been pushed in this era of INDYCAR racing for sure, with the aeroscreen, double-header at Iowa in the day,” Daly said. The forecast doesn’t necessarily look super inviting or like wonderful.

“So yeah, we’ve never run the cool shirt yet at an oval, but I think we’re going to try to run the cool shirt this weekend. Certainly in my case I sweat an inordinate amount, so I’ve been drinking a gallon of water a day already this week with a big jug. I’ve got about as much hydration stuff as you could possibly fit into a human body for the next few days, and that’s really it.

“It’s going to be an ice bath after race one, try to do that. It’s going to be maximum effort to try to just make sure you’re not only able to survive but perform. You can probably survive but you also want to be competitive. When you start losing the physical capability, you start losing competitiveness.

“It’s going to be a challenge, and if anyone says it’s not, well, they’re lying directly to your face.”

As the body temperatures rise, can you race at peak performance for 250 laps on Saturday and 300 more on Sunday in these conditions? Those with the cool suits will have an easier time in doing so. However, do we know if the cool suits work for that long?

That’s one part.

Another part to how this weekend’s racing around the .894-mile short track will be how the cars will react to the heat. While fans are clamoring for night time races, while it’s not ideal to sit in 100+ degree heat indexes on Saturday and temps in the middle 80s 24 hours later, racing in this heat actually creates more side-by-side racing.

“Like it’s just a matter of being super, super committed at Iowa, certainly in qualifying, because it’s so fast that like physically it’s literally pulling at your face and your entire body,” Daly told me.

“You’ve just kind of got to get through it and know that the car is going to catch you when you get to the center, even if you’re hopping over all the bumps that there is on the track.”

Scott Dixon leads Scott McLaughlin at the Iowa Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

That’s why I feel like we could see some good action in each race. Qualifying on Saturday morning is tricky in a sense you’re racing what you qualify. It’s an impound race. So those who elect for track position and qualifying pace, may falter in the race conditions when we see some long green flag runs.

“I would much prefer qualifying up front, and that’s certainly what we’re going to go for, but you’re also dealing with a park for May situation,” Daly said. “You’ve got to be ready for both qualifying and the race at the same time, and that’s kind of unique to this event. It’s why our engineers are asking, hey, do you think for qualifying do we run this gear here, this gear here, but will that be okay for the race, because you don’t want to miss on either side, so what do you settle for and what do you slightly compromise to make sure that both of them are good.

“I mean, everyone is going to widen out the track. Like it’s going to happen. I think the only difficult part is it’s going to be so hot. I would much rather qualify up front and make people work to pass us than be like really good at lap 60 on tires, because a lot of people were like, oh, I think we’re really good at lap 65 on tires or 60, and I was like, I don’t even know if anyone is going to go that far on tires. So it’ll be curious to just see how that plays out because the pace dropoff is substantial, substantial from like a qualifying sim to a let’s say 40, 45 laps in.”

Daly is right. The tires fall off quickly here and with the day time heating, they’ll fall off even quicker than usual too. It’s all about managing your tires. Push too hard, they quicker they fall off. Don’t push enough, you’re liable to fall a lap down.

That’s because you can pass here.

“Yeah, I think it’s a great track because it has multiple lanes, a lot of tire degradation, bumps. Tricky,” Will Power said. “It’s my favorite oval. I really, really enjoy it here.”

Romain Grosjean agreed.

“I like short ovals because there’s two lanes and that makes it really fun,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “There’s nothing worse than sitting in one lane and following the guy in front of you 60, 70-plus laps.”

Power noted that he thinks you’re automatically going to go wherever the car in front of you isn’t.

“It’s not even a tire deg thing. It’s where can I get clean air,” Power continued. “There’s probably three sort of lanes in a way that you can find places. Hopefully it creates a good race.

“Yeah, if you start at the front, it certainly helps. It’s difficult to make a lot of ground, so you want to definitely start in that top 10.”

Maybe just not the pole though. Just 1 time in 13 races has the pole winner won here. Last time out, Simon Pagenaud came from the last row in Race 1 of the 2020 weekend while Josef Newgarden came from the pole a day later. There’s been 1 pole winner all year (St. Pete) and 1 in the last 11 overall.

4 of the last 6 winners at Iowa have started in the top 3 though. 3 straight races on the season were won by a 2nd place starter.

Oddly enough, the night races produced more winners from further back. The starting spots of the winners during night races? 17th, 7th, 13th, 9th, 3rd, 23rd and 1st respectively.

The starting spots in the day races? 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 15th, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 11th respectively.

Granted, we haven’t had a day race here with the Aeroscreen and there’s not been a day race since 2018 at Iowa overall. Things change. Tires change. Setups change.

With tires falling off, cars on varying setups because of qualifying being an impound after, the heat and multiple lanes to race on, I expect some passing opportunities on both days.

So in saying that, does knowing how the car reacts over the course of a stint at Iowa favor the veterans of the paddock? I mean they’ve done it. They know what to expect. Usually as the years go by, so does the patience and figuring out the art of slowing down to go faster.

“I would like to say yes, but I feel like in INDYCAR that’s not as prevalent,” Daly told me. “I feel like there’s not been many times — it depends on the track, where it is. But there are sometimes you see the tires immediately fall off, a massive like deep end. But then you just pit immediately essentially. So yes, there’s that extent.

“I would say the dropoff for us is less progressive than you would see like in stock car racing. I would say it’s more kind of like, you have one moment where the thing slides out from underneath you, then it’s like, whoa, we’d better be pitting within two or three laps because it’s going to be a real challenge.

“So yeah, I think veterans definitely have an understanding more for it’s a long race and anything can happen, and we’ve seen it time and time again. Whoever is 19th at Iowa on lap 95 could end up on the podium for some odd reason.

“We looked at the last time it was a double-header, and the guys who pitted for new tires for the last stint like passed everyone insanely, and then you try the same thing the next day, which I did, and it didn’t work as well.

“Each day is going to be different, and each race has its own profile to it. Veterans for sure know, but the young guys and everyone in this series is extremely talented, so it’s hard to really say anyone is at a disadvantage.”

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