NEWTON – A new element will be added to the highest level of open-wheel racing when it returns to the state.
The IZOD IndyCar Series announced Tuesday the rules for heat races will determine the starting lineup for the IZOD IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250. Practice and the qualifying competition will be Friday, June 22, with the race Saturday, June 23.
The first of three heat races will consist of the even ranked practice times, starting with the 10th-fastest and determining the order of even spots 10 and down. The second heat will be the odd positions, starting with the ninth best and deciding starting posts nine and down. The top eight recorded practice times will compete in the final heat with the winner claiming pole position.
Two-time Iowa Corn 250 winner Dario Franchitti, who recently claimed his third Indianapolis 500 win, said the new format will be interesting.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Franchitti said at a news conference at Iowa Speedway during IndyCar testing on Tuesday. “It will give the fans something extra.”
Instead of watching practice and cars zipping around the 0.875-mile oval individually, fans will get two days worth of racing. Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who is currently fourth in the overall points standings, praised IZOD IndyCar for trying something new.
“You have to be changing,” Castroneves said. “You have to try something. If it works great. If it doesn’t work, we change it back.
“It’s going to be exciting. The fans will like it.”
Castroneves won the pole at Iowa Speedway in 2009, while Team Penske teammate Will Power earned it in 2010. Power, the current IZOD IndyCar points leader with three wins, owns two poles this season. He will judge it later.
“It’s a lot to go through just for a group position,” said Power, noting there are no points at stake in the heats. “I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”
Power said it creates more stress on drivers, adding many changes are met with resistance. Drivers and their teams normally have a chance to adjust after practice, improving for qualifying runs. Disappointing practices can force a driver out of pole contention. Drivers might be compelled to press more early. Power said he hopes the method is safe.
“It makes it harder because in practice determines whether you have a shot at the pole or being in that final (heat) race,” Power said. “I hope it doesn’t make things more dangerous when everyone is trying to get the quickest laps in practice.”
Drivers will likely use caution in the heat races to keep from damaging cars. Defending Iowa Corn Indy 250 champion Marco Andretti won starting in the 17th position. Starting at the front is nice, but he won’t force anything during the new qualifying.
“The last thing you want to do is tear something up,” Andretti said.
Castroneves echoed Andretti’s remark. Drivers will need to be smart.
If you have a chance to go for the front, you go,” Castroneves said. “If you don’t have a chance to move to the front, it’s not the race it’s just qualifying.”
“The qualifying for us is always exciting,” Franchitti said. “Go out there and lay it on the line, but sometimes it doesn’t translate out of the car.”
Iowa Speedway will be the only oval to have heat races with single car, two-lap qualifying. The experiment is supposed to complement three-round qualifying for street and road courses.
“The build-up we presently have for the Firestone Fast Six has that excitement and we wanted to do something similar for the oval events,” IndyCar President of Competition Beaux Barfield said in a news release. “It’s going back to the heritage of short-track races.”
According to the release, double-file starts will be used for the fifth annual race.
“We’ve had a lot of firsts at Iowa Speedway with IndyCar and the mini-races are another first,” Iowa Speedway President Stan Clement said in the news release. “With the new car and the heat races, fans who attend the Iowa Corn Indy 250 weekend will get racing on both days.”