'G' whiz, Iowa Speedway is demanding on driver and machine


NEWTON, Iowa – It may be the shortest track on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, but Iowa Speedway is long on demanding.

At but 0.894 of a mile in length, the rural Iowa oval drives more like a superspeedway with its higher banking that demands carrying consistent speed throughout the lap. And with such short straights, it places the cars and drivers in a near constant state of turning left, exposing them to consistent gravitational forces exceeding 5 Gs or more.

Take that beating for two hours or more and it’s no wonder drivers are respectful and even a little cautious as they prepare for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300, the 10th straight year that the series has visited the track and what is scheduled to be the 10th completed race of the 2016 season.

According to Ryan Hunter-Reay – the defending race champion and winner three of the last four years – it’s enough to take your breath away in the cockpit, and more.

“We’re pulling 5 Gs around here and we don’t have any power steering,” said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, which has fielded the Iowa race winner six consecutive years.

“It’s extremely heavy, the Gs make it so that you really can’t breathe through the corners. Think about how short the straights are here, there’s not a whole lot of time to catch your breath. It piles on in a hurry and you just have to stay on top of it.”

James Hinchcliffe is the driver standing between Hunter-Reay and four consecutive Iowa wins. In 2013 when he was also with Andretti, Hinchcliffe beat Hunter-Reay to the finish line by 1.5 seconds for his first – and still only – oval win. Now with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Hinchcliffe is keenly aware of the track’s demands.

“It’s one of the most physical racetracks that we go to,” said the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Honda. “High banks, massive downforce, really high cornering speeds. The (g-force) loads here are unlike anywhere else that we see. To come and do a full race distance here is exhausting.

“In a 17-second lap you’re spending 10 of those seconds in a corner at up to 5 Gs,” Hinchcliffe continued. “It’s an incredibly physical race for us and, being a day race instead of a night race, it’s going to be maybe a little hotter and add that extra element of physicality to it.”

Verizon IndyCar Series track activity begins with practice from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET Saturday, followed by Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. (live on NBCSN). The driver posting the fastest two consecutive timed laps will lead the 22-car field to the green flag in the race.

A final practice in race-simulated conditions runs from 7:15-7:45 p.m. ET Saturday, the final on-track activity before Sunday’s 300-lap race (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

Team Penske drivers own the top three spots in the championship standings heading into the weekend – with Simon Pagenaud (375 points) ahead of Helio Castroneves (301) and surging Will Power (294), winner of the last two completed races. But no Penske driver has won in the previous nine Verizon IndyCar Series events at Iowa.

Castroneves, a three-time pole sitter at Iowa including in 2015, finished second in 2010. The driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, who will pass Al Unser for fourth all time when he makes his 321st career start Sunday, wants to bring team owner Roger Penske that first Iowa win in the worst way.

“Iowa is one of those funny places for me,” Castroneves said. “We start up front and always have fast cars, but haven't closed the deal with a victory. You want to win at every track, but I'd really like to get one here.”

Iowa Corn 300 fast facts:

• Race 10* of 16 in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season (*-The race at Texas Motor Speedway, scheduled to be the ninth of the season, was suspended June 12 after 71 laps and will be completed Aug. 27). There have been nine previous Verizon IndyCar Series races at Iowa Speedway.

• Race distance: 300 laps/268.2 miles

• Track length: 0.894-mile oval

• Track records: Helio Castroneves (one lap), 17.2283 seconds, 186.809 mph, July 11, 2014; Scott Dixon (two laps), 34.5588 seconds, 186.256 mph, July 11, 2014

• Tickets and event information: iowaspeedway.com

• Twitter: @iowaspeedway, #IowaCorn300; @IndyCar, #IndyCar

• TV: NBCSN will telecast qualifying (3-4:30 p.m. ET Saturday) and the race (5-8 p.m. ET Sunday) live. Brian Till is the lead announcer alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller.

• Radio: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with booth analyst Davey Hamilton. Pit reporters are Rob Howden, Nick Yeoman and Michael Young, with Jake Query calling the turns. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Qualifying broadcasts are available on Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.comindycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Practice sessions are on IndyCar.comindycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

• Video streaming: Saturday’s practice sessions – 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET and 7:15-7:45 p.m. ET – will stream live at RaceControl.IndyCar.com and include Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio. Live timing and scoring for all weekend sessions is available at the same site. All Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires sessions (two practices Saturday; qualifying and the race Sunday) will also be streamed live.

• Fantasy league: The #INDYRIVALS Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone allows fans to become a team manager by fielding a four-driver lineup for each Verizon IndyCar Series race, with prizes awarded after each race. Sign up at fantasy.indycar.com.

From the fans