The Sukup 100 at the Iowa Speedway marks the halfway point in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights racing season, and the third straight oval race of the season. With Karam’s win at Milwaukee, Muñoz’s lead in the championship narrowed to the point where Karam had the potential to take the lead in just one race if everything happened just right.
Practice and Qualifying
My expectation as the series headed to Newton Iowa was that Sage Karam would run away with the event. After all, Sage has won every time he’s raced at Iowa. He won the USF2000 race back in 2010, and the Star Mazda races in 2011 and 2012. I thought that he would come to Newton, set the pole, lead every lap, and take the checkers. Also, I expected Hawksworth to continue to struggle. He’s been strong on the road and street circuits, but in both Star Mazda last year and Indy Lights this year, he’s underperformed on the ovals. My expectations were all junk.
During Practice #1, there were no real surprises as Carlos Muñoz set the pace with Veach and Karam right behind him. Dempsey posted the 4th fastest time of the session, and Hawksworth was back in P6. During the second session, Karam fell off the pace in a big way and was 7th fastest, moving everyone else save for Garcia up one spot on the timesheets.
The real surprises came in qualifying. Carlos Muñoz set the pole, which isn’t really surprising, with a two-lap average speed of 159.457 mph. What was surprising was Hawksworth putting his #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport machine up on the front row in P2 with a qualifying speed of 158.794 mph. Veach and Goncalvez would take Row 2, and Karam would fall back to P5 to start alongside Chaves. Belardi Auto Racing’s Peter Dempsey found himself starting dead last after a horrific qualifying sesison.
“The day started off quite well. The car felt very good in the first two practice sessions, but we felt we were missing a little bit to have a go at qualifying. We decided to make some aggressive setup changes to see if we could get a car for pole, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. It was a joint decision between me and my engineer, and we paid the penalty qualifying eighth.” — Peter Dempsey, #5 Belardi Auto Racing
The Iowa Sukup 100
When the green flag dropped on the Sukup 100, Muñoz looked like he was stuck in 1st gear and one car after another passed him. By the end of the race, the championship points leader found himself at the tail of the pack in last place and three laps down. This was a huge surprise as we’ve been so used to seeing Muñoz drive so consistently at the front if not in the lead.
“Don’t know what really happened. On the first lap we had a huge problem with the front tires that wasn’t there (before). We were good all weekend and then something was wrong with the race. It’s a shame for the championship… now we have to think about Pocono.” — Carlos Muñoz, #26 Andretti Autosport
Muñoz’s handling issues gave Hawksworth the opportunity he needed to take over the lead of the race, a lead he held for the first 48 laps. Karam, who qualified poorly, but had a good race setup, began picking off cars on his way to the front and eventually caught and overtook Hawksworth on Lap 49 for the lead. Karam would keep that lead for the remainder of the race.
“I saw the opportunity, took it and that was it. We had a good race. I will tell you what, that was one of the hardest victories I’ve had to work for. That definitely goes down as the best drive I’ve ever had.” — Sage Karam, #8 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport
Chavez, who started alongside Karam, would follow him through the field and also overtake Hawksworth to take over second place. Karam’s and Chaves’ positions were not uncontested. Chaves would repeatedly put pressure on Karam just as Hawksworth looked for a way to get back in front of Chaves. In the end, they would finish in that order with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports sweeping the podium again at the Iowa Speedway. It was a good race for Chavez and Karam coming from the third row to finish 1-2, but it had to be a real confidence booster for Hawksworth to get his first podium finish on an oval.
“We finished third after leading the race for a long time today. I think I shifted to sixth a little too early in the race because when I did Sage (Karam) was able to drive past me. He was using fifth gear then which obviously helped him and hindered us. After that I got back into it and was able to start racing my teammate Gabby (Chaves) hard. It’s great to have a solid finish on an oval because I’ve been working toward that for several races now!” — Jack Hawksworth, #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport
The Championship Standings
With Karam’s victory, and Muñoz’s struggles, the championship points standings changed significantly since Milwaukee. Karam takes over the lead in the championship from Muñoz, the two having 241 and 232 points, respectively. This fight certainly isn’t over as nine points can be made up by Muñoz winning the next round at Pocono, even if Karam finishes in 2nd. The other positions in the championship remained unchanged, although Chaves’ gap on Dempsey widened a bit with his P2 finish, while Hawksworth gained a little. The three are now covered by 20 points as Chaves goes to Pocono with 211 points, Dempsey with an even 200, and Hawksworth with 191. All five of these drivers have the potential to take over the championship lead at Pocono, even Hawksworth. This will be the first trip to the Tricky Triangle for the Firestone Indy Lights series, so everyone will be starting from Square 1 when it comes to track data.
Since the IZOD IndyCar Race is still on ABC for the Pocono race, the Indy Lights race will once again be tape-delayed. Tune to the NBC Sports Network on July 12 at 7:00pm EDT to watch the race, or browse over to http://racecontrol.indycar.com/ to follow live timing and scoring and listen to the IMS Radio call of the Pocono 100 on July 6th.