Although he proved the master of qualifying at Iowa Speedway once again, winning his third career pole at the sub-mile oval, Will Power says IndyCar’s low-downforce formula has kept him guessing at the track — and that’s the way he likes it.
“It’s really difficult to understand the grip level and when you should lift and how you should get back on the throttle and all that, so you never feel like you did the best lap,” mused the Team Penske driver. “But that’s short-track racing and definitely the formula we run now, it’s always difficult. I’ve definitely had a lot easier qualifyings around this place in the past. Yeah, it should be hard. It should never feel good.”
Power wasn’t impressed by those expressing discomfort with the formula after the session: “That’s pretty normal. When people struggle, they want a Band-Aid, and downforce is the Band-Aid to make everything feel real good.”
Even when it does feel good, the easy times likely won’t last in the race, Power reckons, which will make pit tactics especially significant for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300.
“The tire dropoff and all that, it’s going to create some very interesting strategies,” he said. “I think you’re going to pit before you run out of gas, basically, because your lap times drop so much and new tires are so good. It’s going to be tough. You’ll have people take risks and pit early and make a lot of hay whenever they’re on fresh tires and everyone is struggling. Makes for good racing. It’s really good where the formula is right now.
Teammate Josef Newgarden, who was edged out for pole by Power, agreed that timing of stops would be key and noted that several alternate approaches might come into play.
“I think with the way this aero kit and this tire is going to work this weekend, I think most people will take that late yellow — but maybe not,” Newgarden said. “Maybe people will try and take a risk and stay out. But if you have new tires around this place, it could really be a couple magical laps to try and work through the field. Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting to watch how people react to coming to pit lane and how they do it. It’s really going to be dictated by what your competitors are doing around you. I think that’ll be an interesting element to watch for the race, but it’s going to be all about taking care of your tires. I think that’s the key around this place, is how do you take care of your tires, how do you use other lanes. That’s what you’ve got to be good at.”
And coping with traffic — a constant issue for the leaders on a track like Iowa, Power noted.
“That’s short-track racing — you will be in traffic the whole time, and understanding how to get through it well. There’s always two lines here, which helps. I think it potentially can be three, because the third lane in Turns 1 and 2 is really nice. It’s just a matter of if people go up there and it doesn’t get marbled up.”