PRUETT: Notes from Iowa

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PRUETT: Notes from Iowa

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Notes from Iowa

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  • It took four events to find the weekend where Chip Ganassi Racing would lose its race-winning edge. For the first time since the season kicked off, CGR’s three entries appeared unable to mount a charge for victory lane, and despite Scott Dixon’s rise from 17th to second in the first race, his No. 9 Honda, along with the Nos. 8 of Marcus Ericsson and 10 of Felix Rosenqvist, never factored in the conversation about winning Rounds 1 or 2 in Iowa.
  • Ericsson, however, has five-straight top 10s. He had three, total, in his rookie season last year with Arrow SPM. He’s also eighth in points.
  • Having the aeroscreen’s value demonstrated Friday night, in the exact cockpit-intrusion-prevention scenario it was designed to defeat, was a welcome sight.
  • Rosenqvist felt the full measure of going from hero to zero in a span of five days. The Road America Round 2 winner arrived at Iowa as the hottest thing in IndyCar, and it was quickly unwound by the decision to use a two-stop strategy that immediately backfired. Had he started at the back and needed to try something different to move forward, the two-stopper might have been easier to understand, but he qualified seventh and ultimately finished three laps down in 14th. In response to his struggles, zero teams attempted a two-stopper on Saturday.
  • On a similar note, Carlin Racing’s Race 2 strategy of keeping Daly circulating under the late yellow while running third and calling him into the pits with 35 laps remaining is another Iowa strategy that might be one-and-done. Daly crossed the finish line down a lap in 13th.
  • The cartoon anvil normally makes its appearances using the element of surprise. However, its best friend, Ryan Hunter-Reay, showed in Iowa that it can also be booked for appearances, as evidenced by his hitting the pit lane exit wall in nearly the same spot two nights in a row. Pro tip: Never book the cartoon anvil. It’s never late, and never misses.
  • That’s a ninth, a third, and a sixth for AMSP’s Oliver Askew on his first three IndyCar oval races. Not bad for a lifelong road racer.
  • Time for another new bestowment: The Jekyll and Hyde Award. It goes to the two-car team with the most radically different races, and at Iowa, it went to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato on Saturday. Sato was the first car to pit in Round 2, had his crew unwind seven turns of front wing – seven –  and suffered through a brutal race mired at the back of the field where he finished three laps down in 21st, one position lower than where he started. Rahal went the opposite direction, improving from 19th to third on the way to capturing his second podium of the year. Sato’s bizarre night ended a run of four-straight top 10s for the 2017 Indy 500 winner. Rahal’s third-place performance ended a two-race slide of finishes outside the top 10, and has the Ohioan sixth in the standings, equal on points with Will Power. Sato, with missing the Texas race in mind, is 17th.
  • MSR’s Jack Harvey cleaned up four straight ugly finishes with a pair of sevenths at Iowa. He’s one spot ahead of Sato in 16th.

Askew’s oval form suggests that his Freedom 100 and Gateway wins in Indy Lights were no fluke. Image by Abbott/Motorsport Images

  • The last time Ed Carpenter had consecutive oval finishes of 15th or worse? The 2016 season, as a whole. Five ovals races that year yielded a best of 18th. Leaving Iowa with a 15th, three laps down, and a 23rd after crashing, was the last thing anyone would have expected for IndyCar’s ovalmeister.
  • His rookie teammate Rinus VeeKay also had an Iowa weekend to forget. Caught up in the restart pileup that saw Herta get launched over his car, the Dutchman returned in the spare chassis for Saturday, fell back a few spots from his 15th-place starting position, and held on to place seventh, two laps behind Newgarden. Only Marco Andretti is behind VeeKay in the championship. Barring that fine fifth on the IMS road course, his debut season is teetering in a precarious place. ECR didn’t have much pace to offer at Road America and Iowa, and with a few crashes thrown in – some that were, and some that weren’t VeeKay’s fault – he needs to find the easy speed and extreme confidence that make him one to watch in Indy Lights. All things being equal, he should be jousting with Askew at every round.
  • Haven’t heard, read, or said ‘iRacing’ and ‘sim racing’ as often as I expected once IndyCar started its season.
  • It’s the last thing he’d get excited about, but after three it-can’t-get-any-worse races for Alexander Rossi, he’s put together finishes of third, sixth, and eighth. It won’t win a championship, but it’s a turn in the right direction after going 15th, 25th, and 19th in the opening three rounds. He’s risen to 10th in the standings, bumping Santino Ferrucci from the group.
  • Between Pagenaud’s win Friday night, Josef Newgarden’s follow-up win Saturday night, plus Action Express Racing’s win on Saturday in Sebring with their Cadillac DPi-V.R which featured a Cadillac 1-2-3, and Corvette Racing’s 1-2 finish in GT Le Mans with the C8.R, it’s fair to say Team Chevy/Cadillac Racing had a kick-ass 24 hours across IndyCar and IMSA.
  • On that theme, after earning four poles and zero wins, Chevy got back to business with two poles and two wins in Iowa. The Bowtie has a lot of digging out left to do in the Manufacturers’ championship, but 2-4 looks a lot better than 0-6.
  • Dale Coyne Racing looked strong at times in Iowa. Multiple pit stop issues and at least one bout of on-track contact helped to limit their results as rookie Alex Palou (11th/14th) fared slightly better than teammate Santino Ferrucci (13th/18th). Palou, in his second and third oval outings, impressed once again, and while he fell from 12th in the standings to 13th, he’s only one point behind AMSP’s Askew and just two behind Ferrucci.
  • Will Power’s post-race comments Saturday night were a classic case of words not matching the meaning of the message. The Australian attempted to convey his frustration at trying so hard to win, that he often finds himself in situations where that effort isn’t rewarded while, compared to those like Pagenaud and Dixon, who came from the back of the field to finish up front, maybe if he started off with nothing to lose like them, the results would come more easily. Or something like that.
  • It wasn’t the warmest welcome for A.J. Foyt Racing in Iowa after Tony Kanaan found the wall and Charlie Kimball fell back at the start of Race 1 and lost five laps on the way to 18th at the checkered flag. Race 2 was slightly better for Kimball, who improved to two laps down in 17th, and for Kanaan, fortunes were kinder as he rallied to take 11th as the last car on the lead lap. Combined, Kimball and Kanaan each have a 10th– and 11th-place result this year, which is less than they hoped for, but there’s more potential to be fulfilled. They’ve been good, at times, and while the team needs to keep its current driver rotation in motion to satisfy the expectations of sponsors and partners alike, finding a way to draft Sebastien Bourdais in for an oval, or road course, feels like it might deliver the competitive boost that’s needed.
  •  Please enjoy the mini-break before August explodes with all manner of IndyCar goodness. The season-to-date has been insane, and I can’t imagine it will change before it’s over.

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