What to watch for: IndyCar at Iowa (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra)

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This week’s edition of the “What to watch for” pre-race piece for the Verizon IndyCar Series is, like the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway, short. The full race preview is linked here.

Without further adieu, here are a few key items to look forward to ahead of Round 13 this year (LIVE at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

TRAFFIC

Like at Milwaukee, how good your car is in clean versus dirty air will go a long way towards determining the winner. And with 17 or 18-second laps, laps click off in a hurry at 170-180 mph.

TIRE GAMBLES

It was the story that defined last year’s race – new tires made all the difference as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden rocketed to the front following late pit stops. If there’s a late caution, expect most if not the entire remaining runners to pit for fresh boots.

TEMPERATURES

Friday’s two practice sessions were held in scorching earth-level hot conditions of more than 90 degrees ambient and 130 degrees on track, plus humidity. Houston 2013 comes to mind as a comparable example. Rain may occur during the race, which would halt the race, but even if it doesn’t there should be some relief for drivers and teams. It’s still going to be a physical test.

BACK-TO-BACK

As in Milwaukee, qualifying was only a few hours before the race. And as such, if you have a good qualifying car, you might not have a good race car, or vice versa. Sebastien Bourdais won from 11th on the grid and it will be interesting to see whether there are any big movers from the back.

CAN HONDA RECOVER?

Friday’s practice sessions were Chevrolet-dominated and the Hondas were stuck from 12th on back. Will they be able to bank improved finishes on Saturday?

PT AND SEABASS, TOGETHER AGAIN

Look out for a cool pre-race feature involving past adversaries Paul Tracy, now an NBCSN commentator, and Sebastien Bourdais, who dominated in Milwaukee. Tracy was effusive in his praise of Bourdais during the Milwaukee broadcast. It involves the two in a corn field, and this car. Here’s a sneak peek below:

CAN WE GET SOME ACTUAL DRAMA?

Speaking of PT and Bourdais, they were actual rivals.

Meanwhile, the #IndyRivals hashtag this year has been used in IndyCar marketing and promotions… the only problem is there haven’t been any true rivalries to sell, and no animosity between the drivers. Here’s hoping a Saturday night short track battle produces a dust-up or two and some good soundbites.

POINTS AND POTENTIAL WINNERS 

Juan Pablo Montoya looks to consolidate or increase his 54-point lead. If he does, it will only make it that much more difficult for his points rivals to catch him.

In the list of potential ninth race winners this season, practice dominator Tony Kanaan stands out. Other notables without a win this year… Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.