Photo: Walter G. Arce Sr. /ASP Inc.

IndyCar Techbench: Iowa Speedway

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

Nailing the proper car setup has helped Ed Carpenter Racing become one of the teams to challenge for the win at Iowa Speedway over the last few NTT IndyCar Series visits to the Newton, Iowa track.

A win and a pair of seconds give the team a great backdrop ahead of Saturday’s 300 lap race and Spencer Pigot is aiming to better last year’s second place result for the team in 2019. The Floridian will start the Iowa 300 from 19th place out of a 22 car field in a car prepared by lead engineer Matt Barnes.

The .875 mile oval has many characteristics that make it unique among the 16 tracks that INDYCAR visits over the course of a season. Of all five ovals, Iowa is one of two that has progressive banking in the turns with 12 degrees on the bottom and 14 degrees on the top.

You’re fighting the entry and exit feeling worse than what’s happening mid corner,” said Barnes. “It definitely creates a bigger challenge than somewhere like Indy where the banking is pretty constant.”

The surface at Iowa Speedway is another of the biggest challenges. The bumpiness makes having a top-tier damper program that much more critical while tire degradation has to be managed properly. If managed, a driver can push their set of Firestone tires throughout a stint. If a set of tires doesn’t mesh well with the car, the driver will have a hell of a time keeping the car underneath them since a stint at Iowa can last nearly a third of the race.

“If you have a bad stint, that’s a whole lot of corners,” said Barnes. “The tracks that are like Texas, you can have a 50 lap stint, you can kind of have a not great stint, you can recover a bit. Here, a bad stint, you’re only doing a couple of stops, that’s a huge chunk of the race and it’s a lot of corners.”

Iowa can make for one of the most entertaining races of the year for the Indy car community. The motorsports equivalent of shooting the movie Top Gun in an NFL stadium, Indy car racing at Iowa Speedway merges the daringness of drivers to slice and dice their way through traffic with the cleverness of the race strategists to call their drivers to pit road to get new tires at the best time. Getting the car setup and race strategy mix right can lead to some fun races for the pit stand.

“It’s rewarding when you get it right,” said Barnes. “As you’ve seen before even last year and when Josef won, you can end up putting almost the whole field a lap down and I think last year there were only four cars on the lead lap. I think for the drivers its fun when it’s right because they’re just constantly passing people and it’s fun for the engineers as well to watch so it tends to be more dramatic when you get it right so that can be fun.”

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.