Race Day Diary: Iowa 2015

My race day diary doesn’t actually start on race day, rather the day before. While out playing tennis with a friend, I was informed that paddock passes, which get you into the pits and the garages, were only valid between 10:00AM-3:00PM. I was pretty upset, since my family and I wouldn’t even be getting to the track at around 3:30PM, and with the race starting at 7:50PM, we would have a ton of downtime.

With my frustration posted to Twitter, I was promptly contacted by Jimmy Small, President of Iowa Speedway. He gave me a call, explained why they were closing it at 3:00PM. It was a very rationale conversation. I wasn’t cussing him out or yelling at him, and he was very polite and understanding of our situation. Towards the end of our call, he offered my family and I credentials for the race so we could stay in the garages till the race started. That kind of hospitality and generosity is rare these days. It’s nice to know that a place my family and I had been coming to since 2007 is in the great hands of Jimmy and his staff. While Iowa is a track I love coming to, this small gesture of kindness guarantees that my family and I will be coming back for as long as they race there.

Fast forward to the next day: RACE DAY. MY parents swung by to our town to pick up my girlfriend, Sammi, and I. She was excited to go to her very first race and cheer on her favorite driver, Simon Pagenaud! Sammi started ‘watching’ (she occasionally falls asleep) Indycar with me towards the end of last year, and she loves Simon’s personality and his performance.

We made our usual stop at Hickory Park in Ames for a gourmet lunch, and then headed to the track! We got our credentials, headed to the infield, and immediately went onto pit road for the last fourth of qualifying. It was insane standing next to cars getting ready to go out on their runs. My parents, Sammi, and I were in awe.

After Stefano Coletti left, we spotted Conor Daly under James Jakes’ hood. For those of you who don’t know, Conor has been following me for three years and we communicate once or so per week. He is in the Fantasy Indycar league I started and loves doing it. So I guess you could say he’s my favorite driver for sure. Getting to meet him and shake his hand was definitely a life highlight of mine. My family, Sammi, my friend Jake Neely (@indycarfan25), whom I was going to meet at the track at some point, and his dad all stood in a circle around Daly making conversation. We talked about a whole number of things: Scott Goodyear, Eddie Cheever Jr., his chances to driver this year and next year in Indycar, the schedule, the fact that my girlfriend gets jealous when I’m ignoring her to talk to him, Fantasy Indycar, and more. It’s nice to know that a guy who has made a big impression on me on Twitter as far as his personality goes is the same type of guy in person. Genuine, funny, and incredibly nice, Conor Daly is an easy guy to cheer for and my favorite driver.

Afterwards, our group roamed around the garages and we met up with Sarah Hall (@flywheel011). Sarah and Jake are two of my favorite people on Twitter. Both of them are incredibly nice people, and they are very passionate Indycar fans. Sharing the experience of walking the garages and talking to drivers was an absolute pleasure.

Our group lingered for a while, watching some Pro Mazda and Indy Lights action. It was great to see Max Chilton win for his former teammate Jules Bianchi, who died the day before.

We then got a chance to talk with Pippa Mann! This was my fourth different time meeting up with Pippa to chat with her. She talked us through Milwaukee and her chances for Iowa. She was pretty down about the performance she put up in Milwaukee, but she was optimistic with her chances at Iowa. Unfortunately she had to retire again, but it was a pleasure to talk to her again! The fact that she was a message away on Twitter to come and talk to us shows the kind of driver she is. She loves spending time with her fans and will do just about anything to make them feel special. I really appreciate that from her.

Random observation: Bryan Herta Autosport can’t afford a moped for Gabby Chaves.

Sammi got to meet her favorite driver, Simon Pagenaud! She has only been watching racing with me since the end of 2013, but she quickly adopted Pagenaud as her favorite. She liked the fact that he was in the championship hunt. But she mostly likes him because he’s nice, funny, and has an “adorable voice.” I’ve been trying to work on my French accent so Simon doesn’t become cooler than me, but so far it isn’t working. She got Simon to autograph her draw string bag (she wanted him to sign something that she would actually use, so something other than her ticket or a hero card), and Simon told her to enjoy the race. I can’t even be mad at him, because he’s such an awesome dude. Really happy Sammi got to meet him!

Photo: Chris Owens / Indycar Media

Jake asked me if Glenn Locke was a candidate to get into Fantasy Indycar next year. I haven’t laughed that hard in so long.

After meeting Simon, the group and I went back up top under the grandstands to meet one of the best people on Twitter, Mike Knapp (@15daysinmay). Mike made the trip with his wife and son to Iowa, and was sitting in the same section as Sarah. It was great to talk about all sorts of things! My favorite topic was trolls. Mike was thinking about shutting down his blog and Twitter, but he had a change of heart, and I’m glad. It was also cool to talk to him about my college life. Mike, and many others on Twitter, started to follow me when I joined Twitter in 2011. So basically, I’ve grown up right in front of him, and he was amazed when I told him I’m a senior in college. Mike is just as cool in person as he is on Twitter.

It was also great to share my experiences with fellow Tweeps Sarah and Jake. They are two great people and having met them in Indianapolis, we had a familiarity that made it easy for us to reconnect. I surely hope our paths cross again.

Before the race started, Max Chilton led the crowd in a moment of silence for his former Formula 1 teammate Jules Bianchi, who had passed away the day prior. Jules will be missed.

I tweeted about the gesture and how touching the moment was, and, to my surprise, it was retweeted by Dario Franchitti and favorited by Max. To say this day had been going well is an understatement!

I predicted that since Helio Castroneves got the pole, he would inevitably screw up the start, which is par to the course for Helio’s career when leading the field to a start/restart. Sure enough, the first start was waved off. I was not surprised.

Once the race got going, my girlfriend and I just sat back and enjoyed the race. The word she used to sum it up was ‘mesmerizing.’ Sammi said she really enjoyed the race, and I’m glad! Hopefully we can continue to make a fan of her. I’m glad I got to share the experience with her and my parents! It sounds like we will be making the trip to Indianapolis next May for the 500, but nothing is confirmed yet. If it does happen, I CAN’T WAIT!

Observations about the drivers (by car #)

#1 Will PowerWill Power was very anonymous throughout the race despite starting up front. The car seemed to get progressively worse and worse as the race went on. He survived and salvaged a top-ten, but a great chance to make up points on Juan Pablo Montoya went out the window.

Photo: Chris Jones

#2 Juan Pablo MontoyaJuan Pablo Montoya’s day ended before it even started. A bummer to see, but figured bad luck would have to hit him at some point this season. Fortunately for him, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Power, all struggled to make up points.

#3 Helio Castroneves – Helio had a very impressive first half of the race, but everything went wrong in the second part of the race, and he came home with a subpar 11th place.

#4 Stefano Coletti – Rookie Stefano Coletti had a great starting position and was doing good things before making contact with Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal. Coletti then went five laps down and went back out to gain experience. I was actually starting to think, ‘Wow, he’s doing good.’ Despite being many laps down, Coletti was fighting with the guys around him, mainly Jack Hawksworth and Charlie Kimball, and was doing a good job of hanging with them. Then, in typical Coletti fashion, he crashed. Speculation persists that Coletti may be getting fired soon, and it’s hard to blame KV Racing when he continues to do nothing on the track.

#5 Ryan BriscoeRyan Briscoe drove an incredibly smooth and sound race on his way to a top-ten.

#7 James Jakes – James Jakes looked really good on starts and restarts; he looked comfortable on both the high and low sides of the track. The problem for Jakes was his car would fall off immediately on long runs, making his chances of getting anywhere tough.

#8 Sage Karam – The most controversial driver of the race with Sage Karam. From a driver’s point of view, I can see why people were upset with him. From the stands, Sage looked phenomenal. He knew where to put his car in order to make the moves to pass. He had some epic duals with Graham Rahal early on and with Graham again and Ed Carpenter at the end of the race. As far as him chopping drivers, I saw plenty of drivers cutting others off all race. To say that Sage was the only driver doing it is a bit obtuse. This kind of aggression and the ‘Bad Boy’ mentality we see from Karam is something that Indycar is starving for.

Photo: Shawn Gritzmacher

#9 Scott Dixon – In nine years at Iowa, it either seems like Scott Dixon does really well, or he has a mechanical issue. 2015 turned out to be a mechanical issue year for Dixon. A shame because he could have gotten a ton of points on Montoya.

#10 Tony KanaanTony Kanaan has been the dominant driver at Iowa the last five years, so his luck that plagued him the first two years at the Speedway would have to catch up to him, and it did. Kanaan suffered some sort of issue that has still not been made public yet, and he retired.

#11 Sebastien BourdaisSebastien Bourdais didn’t leave a big impression on me, but he also managed to get a top-ten, so there’s that.

#14 Takuma SatoTakuma Sato suffered a suspension failure and crashed. Before then, he was battling hard with teammate Jack Hawksworth. It’s amazing to see the amount of fan support he gets at the track. His garage is always full of both sponsors and fans. Just with he would reward them with a good result once in a while.

#15 Graham Rahal – Graham Rahal was my driver of the race. Graham, as he I figured he would, charged to the front from his mediocre starting position to a solid position in the top-ten. Then coming into the pits, the car would not go after being serviced. I knew it was a gearbox issue because the team was rocking the car back and forth. I think I saw the team give him the backup steering wheel and then he went on his way. He was put a lap down, but using strategy and a lucky caution, Graham got back on the lead lap. He shot the gap on two Team Penske cars on his way a top five. It was a championship caliber effort from him and the team.

#18 Pippa Mann – Pippa Mann was looking to rebound after a rough weekend in Milwaukee. I got a sense of where her car would be after talking with her before the race. During the race, her car looked incredibly loose. She was being lapped and negotiating traffic, when she had terrible oversteer, forcing her up turn two. This took the air away from Justin Wilson, causing him to slide in the wall. She and the team would later retire the car not long after this incident. She and Dale Coyne Racing have some work to do before they hit Pocono.

#19 Tristan Vautier – I never realized how aggressive Tristan Vautier was until I started to watch him race this year! I really loved watching him race. There was one instance where Tristan blocked fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais all the way onto the apron on the front straightaway. Tristan has been doing a great job with Dale Coyne Racing and will race for them for the rest of the season.

#20 Ed Carpenter – Ed Carpenter had a very patient and methodical race into a sixth place finish. Ed was never fighting for the lead or leading laps, but he used skill and strategy to get the car to where he wanted and made a charge at the end. While I don’t agree with the way he handled Sage Karam after the race, Carpenter did a great job of bringing the car home with a solid finish.

Photo: Chris Jones

#22 Simon Pagenaud – Simon Pagenaud looked pretty miserable out there. He was easily the worst Penske car out there. I had really high expectations for Pagenaud this season but so far, he’s been really disappointing.

#25 Justin Wilson – Justin Wilson was doing a pretty good job of moving up the field before brushing the wall after the first 100 laps. Despite this, Wilson was able to continue and salvage an okay result. I’m sure he’ll be much quicker when Indycar goes to Mid-Ohio in two weeks.

#26 Carlos MunozCarlos Munoz ran a pretty quiet yet aggressive race to the front, bringing home a great finish for him and the team. Munoz continues to perform solidly without making too many headlines. He goes about his business and does a great job at it.

#27 Marco Andretti – Even though Marco Andretti ran in the top-ten all day and had a good result, I can’t help but feel disappointed about his race. It could have been so much better for him, as he himself said he had a pretty good chance at winning. But he was outperformed by teammates Carlos Munoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Despite that, Marco continues on the path of history as one of the few drivers to finish every lap in a season.

#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay – It was so great to see RHR to finally get a win this season. He’s been having such a rough year with little to no luck and a lack of pace, but he finally put together a great effort on his way to his third win in four years at Iowa Speedway. Something about RHR and the DW12 works well there. The move of the race was pitting early when the pit window opened when chief rival Josef Newgarden stayed out. RHR put down some great laps and stayed ahead of Josef after pitting. With a late caution coming, RHR held Josef and the rest of the field off on the restart to get a win.

Photo: Shawn Gritzmacher

#41 Jack Hawksworth – Jack Hawksworth, who’s hand I shook in the paddock as we exchanged words for about ten seconds, had a pretty tough race. He had a great battle throughout the race with teammate Takuma Sato before Sato crashed. Hawk did prove to be a menace to cars on the lead lap, as Jack raced them hard and did not back down despite being shown the blue flag. It was a pretty average race for him.

#67 Josef Newgarden – Josef Newgarden may have had the best car, which is why it was a bummer to see him cross P2. At the same time, if finishing P2 is ‘bad’ than he and the team are doing something right. He led over 100 laps and continues to show the racing world that he is legit and a force to be reckon with.

#83 Charlie Kimball – Charlie Kimball had another average race going with one of the best teams in the paddocks, before he crashed out of the race. It’s either feast or famine for Kimball, and it kind of irritates me.

#98 Gabby Chaves – Gabby Chaves drove a pretty modest race, staying out of trouble but not doing anything worth noting. His team, however got Gabby a wave around on the last caution and called him into the pits, but Gabby didn’t beat the pace car out to the blend line, meaning he went back down a lap. That wasn’t the most intelligent decision for them.

Thanks to the many people who made this a memorable weekend! Thank you all on Twitter for following along.

-Matthew Hickey