When the Verizon IndyCar Series brings its drama to Iowa Speedway, the narrative changes.
Despite its 2015 struggles, Andretti Autosport is the team to be feared in Saturday’s Iowa Corn 300.
“I’d like to think so,” Marco Andretti said in a team press conference Friday. “The team, for whatever reason, rolls off pretty strong here.”
That’s the understatement of the year.
In eight races at the .894-mile track since 2007, six have been won by a car owned by Michael Andretti, including the last five. It started in the inaugural race with a Dario Franchitti win. The current streak begin in 2010 when Tony Kanaan, now with Ganassi Racing, took the victory. The next four races were won by Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I think last year we started to struggle a little bit, but they definitely pulled the rabbit out of the hat there in the end (with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning),” Andretti said of Hunter-Reay’s 2014 win. Hunter-Reay was able to overtake Kanaan on fresher tires after the Brazilian led 247 of 300 laps.
“It was frustrating to watch,” Andretti said. “Ryan and I were running together the whole time. My engine blew up, then I was watching from my bus.”
Andretti watched his teammate win his second race of 2014 (after the Indianapolis 500) and his second at Iowa in three years. The win also marked the last time Hunter-Reay visited victory lane. Through 12 races, the 2014 Indy 500 winner is 14th in points, has an average finish of 13.1 and has not finished in the top five since the fourth race at Barber Motorsports Park.
The American driver didn’t lead his first laps of the season until Fontana two races ago.
“Always love coming back to Iowa,” Hunter-Reay said. “Hopefully we can get our season turned around here.
“I didn’t want to peak too early (this season),” he joked. “(I) wanted to sneak up on everybody here. Hopefully we’re going to do that.”
Hunter-Reay was third fastest in Friday’s first practice session, but was a team high 12th in the second and final session.
Iowa also represents the last place Marco Andretti earned an IndyCar race at, in the 2011 edition. That was 73 races ago.
“That monkey is as big as anything right now,” Andretti lamented. “Just sort of what Ryan is doing for his season, I’m doing in my career right now. We’re hoping to get a bunch of race wins. We have plenty of podiums (20), plenty of laps led (986), but that’s not good enough for me or anybody, really.”
While Andretti is eager to win, his part-time teammate Justin Wilson is just happy to be racing in IndyCar in any capacity. The Engishman rejoined Andretti Autosport at Milwaukee last week to finish out the final five races of 2015.
“This is where I feel want my career to be,” said Wilson, whose best finish at Iowa is 10th in 2012. “This is what I want to do. Jumping back in just felt like being at home. Everything was familiar, I knew what to do, knew where to be at what time. It’s a much more comfortable feeling once you have that experience.”
The fourth variable in the Andretti equation is the most successful in 2015. Carlos Munoz, who earned his first IndyCar win and Andretti’s only one of 2015, in a rain-shortened race at Detroit. He makes his second start at Iowa after finishing 12th in 2014.
“I think Iowa and me, we are not really good friends,” Munoz said. “I’ve been good in qualifying here in Indy Lights (one pole), but we struggled a little bit in racing in Indy Lights. Last year was a really tough race. Like Ryan said, you have to have a really good car. It’s going to be really physical as well.”
Even if Munoz doesn’t consider Iowa a friend, he knows anything can happen after last week at Milwaukee, especially at a track his team typically holds court at.
“You never know who is going to win, Munoz said. “Milwaukee, I wouldn’t have put my dollars in on (Sebastien) Bourdais. This is IndyCar, anything can happen till the last lap.”