IndyCar: Iowa ups lap count, drops heat races from past


Some of the extra intrigue – and points – have been taken out of play for his weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 300 presented by DEKALB, even though the lap count has increased.

Each of the last two years, the races at Iowa Speedway have featured heat races for qualifying. They were experimental but also awarded points. Last year, the qualifying points for finishing order in the final heat race was 9 points for first, decreasing by one to 3 for seventh/eighth, 2 for ninth/10th and 1 for 11th/12th.

It aided Helio Castroneves, who won the final heat race a year ago, but was otherwise inconsequential to the overall championship picture.

This year, the standard two-lap oval qualifying returns. Meanwhile the race itself has been increased to 300 laps – up from 250 – and the most at any IndyCar race since Richmond’s pair of 300-lappers in 2008 and 2009.

Neither of those was a success. The 2008 edition was a crash-infested mess where only 12 of 26 starters finished; in 2009, passing was nigh-on impossible and forced the series to make aero changes for future oval races afterwards. It also marked the series’ last trip to Richmond.

Getting the car comfortable is a challenge, particularly over Iowa’s defining characteristic: the big bump at Turn 2. It’s long been a trouble spot for the series as drivers have washed out at the corner, causing accidents.

“On a bullring like this, there’s a lot of banking and many different lines you can use to get around the place,” said Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud. “In addition to the driving style, the car setup can also be more aggressive. Racing at Iowa is somewhere between a road course and an oval.”

“It’s one of the most unique challenges IndyCar drivers face all season,” added Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden, who will run Wichita State University logos on his No. 67 Honda this weekend. “It’s such a fast track for how small it is. There’s high banking around the place, and we run a lot of downforce on the cars.”

Most teams tested at Iowa in June, and this race won’t necessarily be as pivotal as some of the double-points or doubleheader weekends. But it will be a challenge, nonetheless (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.