This weekend, INDYCAR returns to the 7/8-mile oval at Iowa Speedway, an event that has always seen great crowds and has been the first taste many young drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy program have of high-banked, high-speed oval racing. This year, we will again see the Star Mazda Series and the Firestone Indy Lights series take to the track along side the IZOD IndyCar Series and the USAC Midgets and Silver Crown cars. If you love oval racing, it hardly gets better than this! It’s been a while since the Star Mazda drivers have raced in anger, the last time being Saturday night before the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at the 5/8-mile Lucas Oil Raceway (better remembered by many as IRP). After nearly a month off, many of the drivers are eager to get back into the cars and rejoin the championship fight. The Firestone Indy Lights championship battle is also very tight and Tristan Vautier, Esteban Guerrieri, and Sebastian Saavedra will be fighting hammer and tongs to score maximum points.
no images were foundLast year’s battle between Andretti Autosport’s Sage Karam and Juncos Racing’s Martin Scuncio was epic! …right until Martin kissed the wall outside of Turn 4. After that, Sage ran away with the race. It showed Andretti Autosport’s and Karam’s strength on the ovals, and how even a small mistake can be very costly. Juncos Racing’s J.V. Horto and Gustavo Menezes also had success at Iowa last year, both scoring their first podiums in the series. Like many junior formula races on ovals, the first few laps after the start was a knive fight, but eventually settled down into a processional affair. Still the excitement of those first few laps is well worth it!
Who to Watch
This year, it’s hard not to bet on Juncos Racing’s Connor De Phillippi in his #2 ModSpace Racing/One24 Mazda machine. He absolutely dominated the previous oval race at Lucas Oil Raceway last month leading the entire way. Given his demonstrated strength and Juncos Racing’s experience and past performance on ovals, especially at Iowa, he certainly has reason enough to be confident.
no images were found“Last year we were five laps from the end and I had a tire go down so I had to make a pit stop. Nothing you can do about that, but Juncos Racing is a very detail-oriented team and we’ve spent a lot of time in the shop making sure the cars are perfect for this race, that the bodywork fits perfectly flush to reduce downforce and that everything is in place for us to come away from Iowa with the points lead. Lucas Oil Raceway is a track that requires maximum downforce and letting up on the gas a bit as you enter the turns, while Iowa is a minimum-downforce track where a few tenths or hundredths of a second will win the pole and may make the difference between winning and losing.” — Connor De Phillippi, #2 Juncos Racing
While Connor may be the favourite this weekend, he’s by no means a sure thing, 7:5 perhaps. Sage Karam and Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport both had strong showings at Lucas Oil Raceway, and Sage is the defending champion of this race.
no images were found“It’s exciting to be a part of Andretti Autosport on so many levels, for so many reasons. Congratulations to Michael (Andretti) on promoting the highly successful Milwaukee event and of course on Ryan’s (Hunter-Reay) win. Heading into Iowa, the whole team has momentum and confidence on its side. I know that in USF2000 (2010) and Star Mazda last year, I won at Iowa, but, I also know that those wins don’t give me any advantages this weekend. Last year was awesome with Marco and I winning on the same day, but last year is gone and all that matters to me is what happens this year. The new style rocker component (suspension) makes it a clean sheet for everybody. There is no doubt that the Andretti Autosport/Comfort Revolution No. 88 will be ready for me to ‘stand on it’ right from the start. Iowa Speedway fits my driving style of flat-out fast racing and hopefully we can leave Iowa with some great championship points!” — Sage Karam, #88 Andretti Autosport
I think we’re likely to see another hard-fought beginning to the race until either Sage or Connor makes a mistake. If it’s a big enough mistake that both drivers suffer, then there are a host of drivers that will be ready to pounce on the opportunity. Zach Veach is always a threat, and Team Pelfrey’s Gustavo Menezes was running lightning fast laps in the closing stages of the Indianapolis race.
The Championship Standings
With two wins each, Team Pelfrey’s Jack Hawksworth and Juncos Racing’s Connor De Phillippi are separated by only 12 points, 129 to 117, with Jack leading the way having also secured to P2 finishes. His P7 finish at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, did him no favours, however, as Connor gained serious ground after his win. Connor is lined up to take another huge bite out of Jack’s lead if not eradicate it completely this weekend in Iowa. This is Hawksworth’s first year racing the Star Mazda machines and racing on ovals. Connor has experience with both which will serve him very well on Iowa Speedway’s high banks. Juncos Racing’s Martin Scuncio, this season’s only other race-winner, is looking to overcome some poor results early in the season, and given how strong he was last year, this could be the venue to make it happen. He currently sits in third, 32 points adrift of Hawksworth, with 97 points. It’s certainly not likely that he’ll make up that entire gap at a single venue, but with a good result at Iowa, and poor results for Connor and Jack, he could close enough to make the up-coming trip to Canada a lot more uncomfortable for the current front-runners in the championship.
You can follow the action on Star Mazda’s live timing and scoring page at http://www.starmazda.com/timing/.
|1st Practice||Friday, June 22nd||1245|
|2nd Practice||Friday, June 22nd||1530|
|3rd Practice||Saturday, June 23rd||1100|
|Qualifying||Saturday, June 23rd||1510|
|Race||Saturday, June 23rd||1720|