Heat is on in three short Iowa qualifying races
Rahal Letterman Racing managing director of motorsports Tom Anderson knows all too well that though they're 30-lap heat races to set the starting lineup for the Iowa Corn Indy 250, nonetheless they're races.
"It is going to be challenging because the drivers will all nod and say, 'Yes, this is just a qualifying race and it's only to determine a specific position to start and, really, the big show is Saturday night,' '' Anderson said. "That somehow seems to change when they put their helmets on, so it will be quite interesting to see and I'm sure it will be worth the ticket price for those that show up (June 22)."
Qualification groups will be determined by lap times recorded by entries on the 0.875-mile oval in the second (45-minute) practice session (3:30 p.m. ET).
Race 1 will consist of the even-numbered positions, starting with the 10th-quickest practice time, and determine the even-numbered positions in the starting field from 10th down.
Race 2 will consist of the odd-numbered positions, starting with the ninth-quickest practice time, and determine the odd-numbered positions in the starting field from ninth down.
Race 3 will consist of drivers ranked one through eight from the practice. Results of Race 3 will determine the first four rows, with the winner taking the pole position.
Each race is projected for 12-14 minutes duration. Cars will carry about one-third of the E85 fuel load, which shouldn't impact tire wear or the car's consistency with its maximum 37-degree rear wing flap angle on the compound banking.
"Even though Iowa is a 7/8-mile track, it races a lot more like a mile-and-a-half superspeedway than it does a short track," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by XYQ at the Milwaukee Mile on June 16. "It's high-banked, so it's a reset from Milwaukee, which is flat. You really have to have a superspeedway mentality to race there.
"I'm interested to see what we have with the new car and new downforce. With the qualifying heats, it's going to be mixed up. It's tough because you'll really have to take it easy and not hurt your race car in a heat race."
Andretti Autosport drivers have won the past three short oval events: Hunter-Reay at Milwaukee and New Hampshire (August 2011) and Marco Andretti at Iowa (June 2011).
"Certainly, there's a bit of an unknown going into this race and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out," said James Hinchcliffe, who's second in the championship standings. "I think it's cool we're trying something different and we'll see if this format is the right way to do it. We won't know until we get out there and give it a run.
"It puts a lot of emphasis on practice. It does change our focus a bit; in practice we are trying to set up for our race cars and be sure we have the best car over a distance. Now for session two we have to focus on making it quick for at least one lap to get into a good group for the heat races. I think everyone is anxious and excited to see how it plays out."