Monday, June 24, 2013

Race Day Diary: Iowa

I love the smell of ethanol in the morning!

Yes, for the seventh time, my parents and I made the trek down to Newton, Iowa, to see our favorite sport in person. Here's a recap of the things I did and some observations I made during the 2013 Iowa Corn Indy 250:

I arrived at the track about four hours before the green flag was supposed to drop, because why not. I myself had a garage pass, while my parents decided to stay up top and look around. Walking around the garages, some crews were making wholesale changes to some cars and others weren't being touched. Some that were being mauled included Simona de Silvestro, James Jakes, and Dario Franchitti.

A general view of the track during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2013 in Newton, Iowa.
The beautiful Iowa Speedway (Photo: Chris Trotman)

While standing next to Ana Beatriz's car, I get a message on Twitter from Pippa Mann. Odd, I thought. The message said, "Come by the Coyne garages, say hi!" I look to my left, nothing. Look to my right, and I'll be damned, there's Pippa! How did I miss her?! We immediately jumped into conversations about all sorts of things, from her season outlook, the Indy 500, and even how her mom made her dad sleep on the couch a couple times! This conversing lasted for about 45 minutes! She even used the word "tosser" in a sentence and I chuckled, first time I've heard that in person! It was my second time talking to her in person (Indy 2012), and I thoroughly enjoyed it! She's a fantastic individual. Great start to the day.

Later on closer to race time, I got to see my bro EJ Viso for a brief moment, as he had other matters to attend to. He recognized me from last year and called me by name. We shook hands, talked for a brief moment, and then we went our ways. Also got a quick word with Charlie Kimball, who is a seriously nice guy. Always smiling and having a good time.

James Hinchcliffe of Canada driver of the #27 GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Chevrolet leads a pack of cars during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2013 in Newton, Iowa.
Hinch leads the field on a restart (Photo: Chris Trotman)

As things got hectic, I headed back up to my seats before the race started. As the race began, it was clear who had good cars, and who didn't. I will just jump right in and talk about how drivers looked:

Let's start with the moving chicanes on the day: Simona de Silvestro not only was incredibly slow, but she seemed to make things very difficult on drivers trying to get around her. At one point late in the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay got around her, and literally ten laps later, he was passing her again. Something needs to change on this team. James Jakes was also incredibly slow, but he was in a back up car since he wrecked his car in Heat 2 the previous day. But I feel like Jakes did a great job of managing his space with faster cars.

Despite looking racy with some dive bombs, Sebastien Bourdais's struggled in the first half of the race which buried him in the standings late in the race. His teammate, Sebastien Saavedra, not only was a couple laps down, but he was also racing some guys like it was the last lap of the Indy 500. Didn't feel the integrity from him. And a rather stupid move on Sebastian's teams part. On the first caution, Seb got the wave around to earn his lap back but pitted before catching up with the tail end of the pack. In doing so, he was passed by the pace car and re-lost his lap. James Jakes, who was also a lap down, caught up with the tail end, pitted, and was back on the lead lap. A real head scratcher...

Alex Tagliani had a pretty good race going for him, running around the top-ten for the first half of the race. He made that incredible restart, making it four wide in turn two, drawing quite a happy reaction from the crowd. But then his race ended following a spin and mechanical damage to the car. What baffled me was why the team sent him back out there in front of the whole field. Better timing so that he ended up at the tail end of the line would have been a much better idea. You never know what kind of car you have after an incident. Last place for Tags is another tough blow to the team. Takuma Sato was also running very well, hanging in around the top-ten, until a mechanical issue wiped him out of the race.

I feel like Ana Beatriz actually was running a pretty good race before mechanical issues ended her race. She was making clean moves for position and did well to cede positions to cars on the lead lap. I was impressed. Dario Franchitti just seemed like he had a world of understeer on his car, just no grip and no speed. It could be worse though... Your engine could blow before the green flag drops...

Will Power had a terrible race. Started P1 and went the wrong direction the whole race. His car was good on the first stint but in true Will Power 2013 fashion, he faded, finishing P17. Scott Dixon seemed to have a really great car early on before fading in the end of the race. His engine had a sour note to it. Dixon, Ana Beatriz, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, and EJ Viso seemed to hit the hard limiter all to frequently.

Josef Newgarden had a pretty terrible first half of the race, but he rebounded well in the second half, salvaging a P15 result. Seemed like his car was not cooperating early on. Tristan Vautier had some moments, including getting shoved into the marbles by Alex Tagliani, but he hung in there well, finishing P13. Vautier did make some questionable moves against cars that were faster than him.

Charlie Kimball seemed to survive. His car was not great but it was not bad. It got better as the race went on, and he raced a very clean race, finishing P12. Justin Wilson, who finished P11, probably was the cleanest driver out there. The first 50 laps were probably stressful for Justin, as it seemed like he was side by side for a greater portion of these laps. Wilson came home with another solid finish.

Charlie Kimball, drives the #83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2013 in Newton, Iowa.
Kimball battling with Sato, Kanaan, Jakes, and Wilson (Photo: Chris Trotman)

EJ Viso didn't do as well as many thought he would, but if a top-ten is a bad finish, then EJ is doing something right. P10 for EJ. Marco Andretti had a pretty good start to the race, but then something happened with the setup and he went the wrong direction, finishing P9. I know he wasn't too happy with that result. Helio Castroneves finished P8. I feel like Helio might have been the dirtiest driver out there, chopping and blocking drivers at will. I don't know if his car couldn't stick in a lane or he was doing it on purpose, but I was none too happy to see driving from someone like him.

Oriol Servia, who seemed like he got blocked by just about everyone, did a great job of bringing home a very good finish (P7) for a team that has had their fair share of struggles this season. Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal led the way for Honda, finishing P6 and P5 respectively. Graham had a podium run going but circumstances caused him to drop a couple spots at the end of the race. Some blocking moves from Graham weren't advised but he got away with it. Pagenaud was very clean all race and added to what is turning out to be another solid season for him.

An impressive run for Ed Carpenter, who had a great first stint, then faded in the middle of the race, and then came out of nowhere at the end to finish P4. A great result for them. Tony Kanaan finished P3. Another great oval result for him and his KV stable. TK seemed like he got blocked his fare share of times, which was unfortunate to see.

Ryan Hunter-Reay might have had the best car on the day. Ryan hit Graham Rahal on the first stint, damaging his front wing causing Ryan to take a new front wing on the first stop, sending him to the back of the field. He sliced his way though the field, making many look like they were standing still. Valuable championship points for RHR.

And then there is the mayor, James Hinchcliffe, who absolutely dominating on his way to winning. Leading 226 laps, James and the GoDaddy team seemed to nail the setup on their way to winning the race. Can't say that about other drivers who drive for GoDaddy. We made eye contact before the race! Does that make me cool? Well done Hinch!

James Hinchcliffe of Canada driver of the #27 GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Chevrolet celebrates in victory lane following his victory in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2013 in Newton, Iowa.
The Mayor wins again (Photo: Chris Trotman)

Overall, it was a fantastic race. Upon watching the ABC telecast, I'd say they did a great job of showing the race. They did miss some stuff but beggars can be choosers. In the large scheme of things, they did a great job.

I can never complain going to a race at Iowa, but I really enjoyed the Saturday night race format better for many reasons. First off is we all got to see other racing formulas, including Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Second off, there is nothing better than a night race in person. I was blown away with the two night races at Iowa. I was puzzled as to why it changed. Third, having a night race gives you plenty of time to do stuff before the race in the garages and at the shops up top. Fourth, it isn't advisable to have a race at the same time as NASCAR. Never a good idea.

Such a great weekend! Thanks to Indycar for putting on one hell of a show. Let me know what you think.

-Matthew Hickey

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