NEWTON – Tony Kanaan has experienced the high of all highs of IndyCar racing, but the season has resembled a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion.
Iowa Speedway comes at the perfect time on the schedule for Kanaan, looking for consistency and a push for another championship. Kanaan will attempt to earn his fourth straight podium finish at the IZOD IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 on Sunday, starting at 1:30 p.m.
Kanaan has just three top-five finishes, reaching the podium twice. He also cracked the top 10 with a fourth-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., in March, and wound up 10th last week in Milwaukee.
His first Indianapolis 500 victory provided some solace.
“It’s been an up and down season for us,” Kanaan said. “I’m extremely happy that the race that mattered we won.”
Kanaan, of KV Racing technology, entered the weekend sixth in overall points. The victory in the sport’s most heralded event has kept him a contender. Iowa Speedway could be the venue that increases his chances.
“Now we’re still in the hunt for the championship, so we’ll see,” Kanaan said. “Hopefully we’re on the verge now where we keep climbing up.”
He didn’t fare well when he first hit the 7/8-mile oval. In his first three starts, Kanaan’s best finish was 15th. He turned things around, winning the 2010 event and has been in the top three the last two years.
Kanaan said he loves Iowa Speedway and is a big fan of short ovals, in general.
“It’s my type of track,” Kanaan said. “You have to drive it. … The driver makes a difference here.”
Andretti Autosport has felt at home at Iowa Speedway.
The team owned by auto racing legend Michael Andretti has won the last three Iowa Corn Indy 250 races and its four victories is more than any other IZOD IndyCar Series team. Tony Kanaan started the streak in 2010 during his last season with the team. Marco Andretti held off Kanaan for the win in 2011. It was Andretti’s last IndyCar Series race win.
“We’ve always run well here,” said Marco Andretti, noting he has reached the podium four out of six starts at Iowa Speedway. “If we can’t win, I definitely want to keep that streak going at least.”
In the early years at Iowa Speedway, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti built a strong foundation of information on the track. The teams have added to it and have adjusted to the equipment and the aging track.
“Dario and I did a good job of putting together an initial setup in 2007 here,” Andretti said. “It’s changed drastically, but I think we’ve adapted as a team very well.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the event last year, adding the IZOD IndyCar Series points championship. He became only the second driver to accomplish both feats in the same season, joining Franchitti, who did it in 2007 and 2009.
“They had a great balance at this track and a great setup,” Hunter-Reay said. “We built on it. Transferring it to the new car was a bit tricky, but we got it figured out for last year.”
Depth and balance has been the rule for this IZOD IndyCar Series season. After nine starts, only two drivers have more than one win. The Iowa Corn Indy 250 on Sunday at Iowa Speedway in Newton could crown an eighth winner of 2013.
Defending points champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said he expected it to be this tight. Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe are the only drivers this season with two wins.
“It’s tough,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s anybody’s shot at who can win. It’s a testament to how deep the talent level is in this series.”
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves entered the weekend with 299 points, 16 more than Hunter-Reay. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti is third with 249 but without win, while Takuma Sato is fourth 26 points back, winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“It’s amazingly competitive,” Castroneves said. “We’re talking about everybody is so close to each other.”