2017 IndyCar series: Iowa talking points

Andrew Kitchener Roar Guru

By , Andrew Kitchener is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and his rosella helmet. (Image: Andretti Autosport)

    The IndyCar Series is deep into it’s summer run, and the race at Iowa Speedway marks the halfway point of what’s been a very interesting and ultra-competitive season so far.

    Here are my talking points from the always-exciting Iowa Corn 300.

    Helio Castroneves breaks his drought
    Finally! Three years, one month and eight days after scoring his last IndyCar Series victory, Helio Castroneves overtook JR Hildebrand with less than fifty laps to run and returned to victory lane, putting an end to the ‘Will Helio ever win again?’ narrative that’s been front and centre in IndyCar racing since the affable Brazilian last went to victory lane in the second of the Detroit doubleheader events back in May of 2014.

    The thing about Helio is that he hasn’t been off the pace during this long drought. He’s shown a lot of pace at all sorts of venues, capturing poles with regularity, but always seeming to come up short in the race, for a variety of different reasons.

    This year, he’s been right in among the championship hunt despite not ascending to the top step of the podium until today, which says a lot about his consistency. The win is going to help that championship chase immensely. He’s just one point behind New Zealand’s Scott Dixon in his Chip Ganassi Honda, and the title fight shapes as a classic Penske versus Ganassi heavyweight contest.

    While I’m no huge Castroneves fan, it was undeniably good to see him finally dominate a race and get to drive into victory lane, the thirtieth triumph of his glittering career. As is his custom, Helio climbed the fence on the front straight, to the delight of the fans. IndyCar needed it’s most visible driver to win soon, and it was a cool scene Sunday afternoon out in the middle of the Iowa cornfields.

    Hildebrand strong at another short oval
    If Ed Carpenter Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand could only figure out road and street course racing, the American would be a serious title threat. It was a second place start and a second place finish for the Californian at Iowa, matching his best career finish, and was probably the strongest non-Penske car in the race.

    Attendance issues
    There were too many empty seats at Iowa Speedway this afternoon. I’m not sure whether it was the track, the IndyCar Series or broadcaster NBCSN who thought that they’d schedule the 300-lap race at 5:00pm on a Sunday night. An absolutely boneheaded scheduling move, something we see infuriatingly often in the IndyCar world. An early evening start works well on a Saturday night, but is asking for serious trouble on a Sunday.

    You can live with not getting home from a race until midnight or just after Saturday night into Sunday morning but not on a Sunday night into Monday morning. People have to work. It’s unfair to ask the fan-base to make such a commitment. Fans voted with their feet. The Iowa crowd was the worst we’ve seen in five years, and if the powers-that-be don’t come together to make the race either a Sunday afternoon event or return it to the Saturday evening event that worked so well in the past.

    Common sense needs to prevail for a series that has a hard enough time pulling a decent oval crowd for any event not named the Indianapolis 500 when things are as perfect as they can be made to be. A late Sunday afternoon start is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Iowa needs to look at Road America’s monster crowd. When did that race start? Around 1:00pm local time, giving fans plenty of time to get home at a reasonable hour.

    Justin Wilson

    (Image: Andretti Autosport)

    The aero package was great
    Unlike at Phoenix, where it was follow-the-leader most of the night, and Texas, which was pack racing madness, the aero package the IndyCar Series brought to Iowa was perfect. And the race was a good one, featuring plenty of passing (aided by the degradation of the Firestone control tyres), without the insanity of cars running three and four wide lap after lap, which, while exciting for the fans, is also hugely dangerous, almost asking for trouble.

    Now, if the series could just nail down something similar for Phoenix, I think we’d all be pretty happy.

    Esteban Gutierrez
    The ex-Formula One driver who is filling in for the injured-and-rehabbing Sebastien Bourdais at Dale Coyne Racing had a solid thirteenth place finish in what was his oval debut. As far as first-time oval races go, Gutierrez was very smart: he ran a clean and sensible race, coming home just one lap down. If that’s a sign of improvement to come at the final two oval races of the season – at Pocono and Gateway – then watch out.

    Team Penske’s IndyCar future
    Helio’s win came at an interesting time in the history of Team Penske. The powerhouse squad currently fields four full-time entries – for Castroneves, Australia’s Will Power, rising American star Josef Newgarden and defending IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud – and rumour has it they’re dropping back to four next year, with additional entries for the Indianapolis 500 only.

    Couple that with reports from Iowa this week that the long-rumoured Penske Honda sports car collaboration is soon to be announced, with Juan Pablo Montoya, who lost his IndyCar ride at Penske in favour of Newgarden this year, likely to be named as the team’s first driver, with the other main man being none other than Helio Castroneves.

    Various reports went on to say that both Castroneves and Montoya would be entered in the Indianapolis 500 each May, around their sports car commitments. Roger Penske says he hasn’t made a decision yet, and won’t until the IndyCar season is over.

    With Penske entered in IndyCar, NASCAR and Australian Supercar Series competition, and adding a sports car program, it makes sense that they’d cut down on their IndyCar entries, especially given that sponsorship isn’t an easy thing to come by. And Castroneves is the odd man out, being the oldest. It makes business sense, no doubt, but it’s a shame that the popular Brazilian seemingly won’t get to leave the series on his own terms.

    The interesting conundrum will come if Helio wins the championship this year. It’d be pretty hard to move him on then.

    Next Stop, Toronto
    There’s no rest for the drivers and crews of the IndyCar Series as the paddock leaves corn country in Iowa and heads to the streets of Toronto, Ontario next weekend. A bastion of IndyCar racing for many years, the street circuit that winds around Exhibition Place is always a big event, and we’ve seen some spectacular races in the last few years.

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