Iowa IndyCar postscript
Likewise, at this time last week, I could not have told you why corn peaks in July. Nor would I have been able to recall the last time I saw a sign cautioning drivers to watch out for "horse drawn vehicles."
Also, being something of a "city," kid, I admittedly was the first to roll my eyes about 7-8 years ago, when the "Corn Indy," was first announced. Further, I'm not one to romanticize the smell of fresh manure in the morning, something I had the privilege, if you will, of taking in just outside my hotel room.
But after a weekend of fabulous scrambler dishes, juicy steaks, sour cream with every meal, beautiful country, hospitable people, and my first "solo" assignment covering a race for AutoRacing1.com, go ahead and consider me one of the converted.
And while I'm not sure my waistline can handle too many assignments in Iowa, IndyCar's annual pilgrimage to Iowa may become something of a regular one for me. Simply put, the racy layout in the middle of nowhere, was made for Indy cars. And while this year's crowd was down a little, this is a place that IndyCar needs to be going forward.
Let's take a look at a few of the stories from this weekend's Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DeKalb.
As mentioned, attendance was down. From reading the newspapers and talking to the locals, I gathered a few things were at work.
One, the 2013 U.S. Track and Field Championships were in Des Moines. While those races aren't enormous draws, they drew over 9,000 on Friday and 10,000 yesterday. Keep in mind, Iowa is not densely populated to begin with.
Plus, the Track and Field Championships were the cover story in the Des Moines sports section both Saturday and Sunday. While the IndyCar race was number 2, it took a back seat, or at the very least shared twin billing with the Track and Field championships.
Anyway, I know the difficulties of making a schedule, and I'm not blaming anyone. Also, from reading the paper (I confess I'm not an expert on this) it seemed Des Moines was part of a "rota," for the event a la The (British) Open in golf. They had last hosted the event in 2009, and may again in the future, although that is to be determined.
However, when I say IndyCar should be in Iowa, I say that under the pretense that they are the headline act. The market is simply too small for IndyCar to be fighting for attention with other events.
The second factor was simply the weather. It was very hot Saturday (and I didn't have to sit in a grandstand all day), and then the rain Sunday probably scared off any potential walk-up. Also, the area has been getting a lot of rain, which may have further discouraged people.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also mentioned he thought the gate would be better if the race were moved back to Saturday evening. Certainly, Saturday night avoids, the brutal heat that we had Saturday. Of course, the race was moved to Sunday for television, so I suppose you choose your battles.....
No one put up much of a battle for James Hinchcliffe Sunday.
When he won the season opener at St. Petersburg, I wrote that while The Mayor of Hinchtown had shown promise, St. Pete was the first time we had the seen Hinch in a "put some hair on your chest," moment. We saw another such moment in Sao Paulo.
However, Iowa showed a continued element of Hinchcliffe's evolution, as the Canadian was thoroughly dominant. Yes, Hinch got his 'Mike Conway' on, if you will, leading 226 of the 250 laps, and was the unquestioned star of the show. Yes, he was challenged a few times on restarts but kept the car under him, and his stalkers at bay.
Of course, when it comes to Hinchcliffe, his potential impact on IndyCar must be discussed. While Hinch is not yet the "face," of the sport, a la Ryan Hunter-Reay or Tony Kanaan, the charismatic Toronto native has all the elements to become that.
Hinch displays confidence without the pretense of arrogance, humor without being snide, the willingness to be marketable without it seeming contrived, and is accomplished without being aloof and distant.
In short, Hinchcliffe, at least thus far, has been able to win, while maintaining that "Everyman," persona. While other drivers such as Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves can be engaging and personal on a certain level, one doesn't get the sense you could sit down and have a beer with Franchitti or Castroneves. To be clear, this isn't a criticism of either man.
It is however, an illustration of and testament to, an oh-so-rare quality the young Canadian seems to have in spades. And should more success follow, it will be intriguing to see what impact Hinchcliffe can potentially have on the sport.
Championship: Not so Wide Open
One quality I will say Hinch has yet to display is consistency. His three wins are his only podium finishes this season, and his next best finish is a fifth (Milwaukee). He also has three finishes outside the top-20. Currently, he sits fourth in the championship 55 points behind Castroneves.
Now, personally I'd argue this is something of a flaw in the IndyCar points system, which places too much a premium on consistency, but that's another subject for another day.
Nevertheless, the 'ebullient' Brazilian Castroneves has been incredibly consistent so far with only one finish outside the top-10 (13th Sao Paulo). Castroneves has been on the podium four times, and recorded nine finishes of eighth or better. Hinchcliffe only has four finishes of eighth or better.
Also, sitting third is Marco Andretti, who has been consistent, but yet to put together an entire weekend, and find victory lane. Fifth is Tony Kanaan, who you have to imagine will see a drop in form when the series returns to the road and street courses. Remember, Kanaan has only two podium finishes on road and street courses in the last five seasons.
So, unless something changes the title race is going to come down to Castroneves and 2nd place Hunter-Reay. Since, the race in Sao Paulo the defending champion has quietly been on a tear, recording 5 podium finishes in the last six races. Also, the fact Hunter-Reay struggled in qualifying this weekend, and still finished second has to have the rest of the concerned.
Still, if anyone is going to track down the top-2, the best bet is Hinchcliffe.
Rahal and Bia:
Graham Rahal and Ana Beatriz are not championship contenders. However, both made their presence very much known over the weekend in Iowa.
Rahal, of course, set off a mini-firestorm after telling the media on pit row, IndyCar might not be back in Iowa next year shortly after his qualifying run. Young Rahal was incredibly frustrated at the time, but came back later in the evening to put on a clinic in the second heat race, which he won after starting eighth.
On race day, Rahal ran in the top-five most of the day, before finishing fifth.
Beatriz was unable to qualify prior to the heat races due to an engine change. The Brazilian would start the first heat race last, but provide quite a bit of entertainment as she passed Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Sebastian Saavedra all in a span of about 8 laps.
Also, Bia had made up some positions on race day, before a strange problem with her wheel bearings.
And while she had little to show result-wise, Bia caught the attention of many. In particular, her normally difficult to impress car owner Dale Coyne noted Bia "truly belongs in Indy Car and it is our sincere hope that the pieces will come together to insure her place in this sport for a long time to come."
And Left in Bia's Wake....
I never thought I'd say this: Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti brought up the rear in a heat race.
Yes, after Bia blew by them, the combined 8 Indy car championships of Bourdais and Franchitti were relegated to 8th and 9th (last) in the Heat Race 1. Both endured miserable weekends, finishing 14th and 20th respectively.
A Few Quick Things:
--Mike Conway still has more podium finishes in 2013 than Chip Ganassi's team.
--Carlos Munoz still has the exact same number of podium finishes in 2013 as Chip Ganassi's team.
--Of the twenty-two drivers who have started all 10 races, only Bourdais has yet to score a top-10 finish.
--I'm not entirely sure of the sponsor/team/driver arrangement. However, I'm keeping my eye on Barracuda Racing where Alex Tagliani hasn't finished better than 21st in the past six races. With someone like Oriol Servia available (finished 7th this weekend), I wonder if team owner Bryan Herta will be compelled to make a change in the not too distant future.
Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He lives in Rockville, MD and can be reached by email at BrianC@autoracing1.com.
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