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).

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.