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).