Iowa needed a break - a break in the weather, a break in their luck, a break from flooding and tornados. They got it on Sunday, with a magnificent race run under bright blue skies in the Iowa Corn 250.
Target Chip Ganassi driver Dan Wheldon held off Andretti Green teammates Heideki Mutoh and Marco Andretti to win the Iowa Corn 250 in a hard fought final 60 laps.
When the race started, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves set sail in a side-by-side duel, and immediately the crowd knew that the one-groove crashfest of the previous year was not to be repeated. Firestone brought a much improved tire, last year's race groove had worn enough that it was no longer vastly faster than the rest of the track, and the IRL had done its homework to provide a good set of front and rear wings. Adding in the vastly improved parking and traffic situation, and the Iowa Speedway became the star of the show instead of last year's scapegoat.
On lap 39, Ed Carpenter smacked the wall in turn 2 when his car's rear suspension broke. Specifically, he broke the push rod that connects the carrier hub to the rear shocks, and was the third car of the weekend to suffer this failure. No doubt the IRL and Dallara will be looking into this issue, especially since the next race at Richmond will have a very similar setup. Buddy Rice also suffered a rear suspension failure on lap 78, including a small fire in the pits to celebrate the retirement.
By lap 103, there were just 18 cars on the lead lap. "Either you got it right or you didn't for the race," commented Marco after the race, and it was obvious that many in the field just missed the setup. While passing wasn't easy, it was far from last year's crash parade, and some drivers were able to move up - AJ IV, for instance, started 18th and finished 5th, and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 8th after starting 14th. However, the driver that stunned onlookers was John Andretti, who started 23rd and reached the top ten, dropped to 15th due to a bad pit stop, and finished 11th.
Enrique Bernoldi spun his car on lap 188, and set up a fuel mileage race. Dan Wheldon, Hideki Mutoh, Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan all stayed out. Wheldon confessed after the race that he was horrible on new tires - in fact, he dropped several spots during a restart on lap 112 - and was quite thankful to have track position and older tires. Danica's crew kept on mentioning her win in Japan, and were planning a fuel run as soon as it became clear that her car wasn't the fastest on the track.
The green flag didn't last long, with Mario Moraes collecting the wall in turn 2 a lap after the green flag flew. Another caution period on lap 212 when Tony Kanaan's car snapped around in turn 2 and backed into the wall. The cause of the crash remained a mystery at the end of the race, as the rear suspension didn't look to be the culprit this time.
The green restarted with 24 laps to go, with Wheldon leading, followed by Mutoh, Patrick, Dixon and Marco. Danica was promptly passed on either side by Marco on one side and Scott Dixon on the other, and finished 6th. AJ IV, who'd run the high groove all day long, also passed Danica to finish 5th.
The race finished quickly, with the most exciting race between team mates Mutoh and Marco for second place. Mutoh felt a little sheepish about closing the door on Marco a couple of times, but Marco was all smiles and proclaimed the race between them to be very clean. Wheldon took the checkered flag only 15/100 of a second ahead of Hideki, but was never challenged with a pass attempt at the end of the race. Wheldon, along with teammate Dixon, promptly announced that their winnings - some $60,000 in total - to Racing to Recovery, an effort to raise $1 million for flood victim relief.
The Indy traveling show next moves to Richmond, a track very much like Iowa, for a race under the lights on Saturday.
BRIAN BARNHART (President, competition and operations, Indy Racing League): â€śI think clearly we had a much better race than last year. Firestone brought us a new tire that helped us a bunch, but I think the biggest factor was the weather. The higher temperatures and bright sunshine combined with the improved quality of the depth of the field, and I thought our drivers put on a great show. The racing exceeded expectations with good lead changes and good racing for position. The drivers had to be patient and work because the competition is so close, but when you were better you finally got there.â€ť
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished first): â€śWhat a great day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and a great birthday present for myself." (About decision to stay out and not pit): "It was a good call not to do it, but Chip's (Ganassi) not here, so if they had called me in, I don't think I would have come in anyway." (About donating winnings to charity): "My wife and I drove from Chicago to here and we saw the flooding and it was just heartbreaking. I thought it was something that Scott (Dixon) and I should do and fortunately, we were able to.â€ť
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, second): â€śI am very happy to finish second. I am almost there so maybe next time.â€ť
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Blockbuster, third): â€śIt was good clean racing. It had to be good for the fans. It was good fun out there. I am very proud of the Blockbuster boys. We were towards the front all day and Hideki (Mutoh) is on it this year for sure.â€ť (On traffic) â€śIt is tough, the track was pretty good. It was kind of what we set up for. We matched the setup with the conditions and how we thought the race would play out. It was completely different from last year. That made it pretty fun.â€ť (On the restart) â€śI knew I could trust my teammate. Danica (Patrick) was looking out for me, and she could have made it very tough for me and put me below the line. When you get a good run, you got go with it, and I had a good run.â€ť
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Commit, fourth): â€śEarly on, the car was definitely not working the way I wanted. It was very loose, especially on the low line. I started using the high line and it came together better. The high line was definitely the choice of the day. When you had three or four guys in front on you trying to do the same thing, it was difficult to pass. I think strategy played out in the end and thatâ€™s the way it goes. Itâ€™s hard work to pass here. Itâ€™s good to see Dan (Wheldon) get a break; heâ€™s had a tough year so far.â€ť
A.J. FOYT IV (No. 2 Lilly Diabetes/Vision Racing, fifth): â€śItâ€™s my best race of the year, for sure, and the most fun Iâ€™ve had out there in a long time. Weâ€™ve been looking for a good top-five finish all year long. Weâ€™re just happy we got it done.â€ť
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, sixth): â€śThe Motorola car ran well today. I wish that I was able to keep position on the last restart, but whatâ€™s done is done. I have to thank my crew for all their hard work. I just wish had a better finish.â€ť
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, seventh): â€śIt was challenging out there today. I think we just didn't have enough downforce and we struggled to find grip. We made adjustments throughout the day, and towards the end of the race we had a solid car. The good news is that we were able to salvage a fairly decent result with a seventh-place finish. Plus, the Team Penske guys did a great job in the pits all day, so I really have to hand it to them. Now we just have to maintain our focus and look ahead to next week's race in Richmond.â€ť
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, eighth): â€śToday was pretty good for us. We had a good car, and we got beat by cars playing the fuel strategy game. Will Power held me up on the last restart, and that was the end of it. I thought we had a podium finish here in front of the Ethanol folks, but fuel mileage gambles made the difference. I'm not complaining, but you hate to lose a race like that. I had fun out there today, we had a great car, we just have to get one of the breaks that some of these other guys are getting.â€ť
WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia, ninth): â€śThat was a really good race for the KVRT Aussie Vineyardsâ€“Team Australia car, I was able to get really good restarts, but just lacked some speed towards the end. I am extremely happy with a top-10 finish. Itâ€™s good for us and about as good as we can get on this type of oval, so I am very happy. The Aussie Vineyardsâ€“Team Australia crew have done a great job all weekend, and I am looking forward to continuing to make progress next weekend in Richmond.â€ť
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps, 10th): â€śOverall it was a pretty good race. The guys did great pit stops and the car was awesome, especially that last stint. If we could have had that car all through the race, I think we could have moved up through the field. We worked on it all day. In the middle of the race, we werenâ€™t very good, but we stuck with it, and by the end I really do think we had a good car. Weâ€™ll just keep working at it.â€ť
||Dan Wheldon (10)
||Hideki Mutoh (27)
||Marco Andretti (26)
||Scott Dixon (9)
||A.J. Foyt IV (2)
||Danica Patrick (7)
||Ryan Briscoe (6)
||Ryan Hunter-Reay (17)
||Will Power (8)
||Graham Rahal (06)
||John Andretti (24)
||Justin Wilson (02)
||EJ Viso (33)
||Helio Castroneves (3)
||Vitor Meira (4)
||Oriol Servia (5)
||Enrique Bernoldi (36)
||Tony Kanaan (11)
||Mario Moraes (19)
||Jaime Camara (34)
||Darren Manning (14)
||Buddy Rice (15)
||Ed Carpenter (20)
||Milka Duno (23)
||Bruno Junqueira (18)
||Marty Roth (25)
Winner's average speed: 136.007 mph
Time of race: 1:38:35.8923
Margin of victory: 0.1430 of a second
Cautions: 6 caution flags for 57 laps
Lead changes: 9 among 4 drivers
Lap leaders: Castroneves 1-12, Kanaan 13, Castroneves 14-15,
Kanaan 16-51, Castroneves 52-106, Kanaan 107-134, M. Andretti
135-160, Kanaan 161-166, Castroneves 167-189, Wheldon 190-250.
Point standings: Dixon 316, Castroneves 268, Wheldon 267,
Kanaan 216, Mutoh 199, Briscoe 195, Patrick 192, Andretti 189,
Power 169, Carpenter 166.