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

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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).

How Hamilton, Mercedes can clinch F1 titles at the United States GP

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Sunday’s United States Grand Prix could go down as a memorable race in Formula 1 history as both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bid to clinch their fourth world championships (live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET).

Hamilton gave his chances of wrapping up the drivers’ title and re-claiming the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg in 2016 a world of good by charging to pole position on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.

However, with chief rival Sebastian Vettel starting second for Ferrari and a 16-point swing required, it seems likely that the title race could continue to next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Nevertheless, here are the permutations for Lewis Hamilton to win his fourth F1 world title on Sunday in Austin, Texas.

  • If Lewis Hamilton wins the race (25 points) and Sebastian Vettel finishes sixth or lower (maximum eight points), he is world champion.
  • If Hamilton finishes second (18 points), Sebastian Vettel finishes ninth or lower (maximum two points), and Valtteri Bottas does not win the race, he is world champion.

While Hamilton’s coronation seems likely to be postponed until the next race in Mexico, Mercedes looks nailed-on to wrap up its fourth consecutive constructors’ championship in Sunday’s USGP.

The German marque currently leads Ferrari by 145 points in the teams’ standings, and requires a lead of 129 after the race to clinch the crown.

As a result, a double top-four finish from Hamilton and Bottas would be enough for Mercedes to wrap up the title, regardless of how Ferrari fares.

The success would see Mercedes become just the fourth team in F1 history take four straight constructors’ titles, following Red Bull (2010 to 2013), Ferrari (1999 to 2004) and McLaren (1988 to 1991).

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.