By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
NEWTON, Iowa — For many drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy, ovals are not a type of track that gets regularly tested or raced on. In fact, in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, there is only one oval on the 14 race schedule: Iowa Speedway.
Various teams have tested on the ovals and two drivers new to ovals had a brief taste before heading to Iowa. Cape Motorsports tested series points leader Oliver Askew at Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR), mere miles away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and those laps were his first ever on an oval.
“Very different, obviously the car is set up to go left and with all the banked corners, this is more banking than I’ve ever been on in my life,” Askew said.
“So that’s probably the biggest thing to get used to. It’s more like momentum racing now, we’re running one gear around the entire track so it’s all about keeping your RPM up, as little steering input as possible so it kind of goes back to the karting days.”
Besides a mechanical setup, physically the cars require a different technique to cope with driving on the oval.
“We have that pad that’s next to our head so we literally just rest our head up against that pad, that was so weird to get used to because naturally your neck muscles are engaged and you’re holding your head up and when you relax it into the thing it’s just the weirdest feeling because I’ve never done that ever in my life. The g-forces around the corners are extremely high, I think higher than I’ve ever experienced it before so it took a few laps to get used to but I enjoyed it.”
For Askew’s test at LOR, the line is around the top side of the track while at Iowa it’s more of a classic oval arc, and while LOR is not flat out, Askew was nearly flat around Iowa.
“Turns 3 and 4 are flat out, we’re working on getting 1 and 2 flat out. It took me a while to work up to that point and just keep the pedal down and flat foot it around the track. That’s a lot of fun, that’s a great feeling,” Askew said.
USF2000 had a test session on Friday afternoon at Iowa Speedway and progress came nicely for Askew and his team.
“We learned a lot, I think we made the car a lot better from the beginning to the end of the session, you know we picked up about a second and up from running barely in tenth place to third or fourth about a half tenth away from the top so that was really good, I think we made a lot of good decisions to run the car and we’ll see what happens.”
One of Askew’s chief competitors is also experiencing his first oval race at Iowa Speedway. Team Pelfrey’s Kaylen Frederick was a surprise performer for Team Pelfrey, racing in F1600 last season before moving up to USF2000.
His first oval experience was at Memphis International Raceway (MIR).
“It was definitely a lot different, the way that they set up the car and everything,” Frederick said.
“So I got there, I started going around just feeling my way around then I came in, just looked at a few things and went back out and I started realizing how little room for error there was.
“Any small correction feels at least five times bigger just because of the speed that you’re going, your inputs have to be really precise and everything. That’s one thing that I found is just always high speed, no brakes at all, it’s definitely a lot of fun though,” Frederick said.
MIR is a shorter oval so the speeds are slower than Iowa but learning the driving style took some time.
“It’s definitely a lot more tense [on an oval], when you’re going down the straightaway you just have to relax a little bit because you’re just going at such high speeds,” Frederick said.
“You’re always so tense on the wheel because you don’t wan’t to make any wrong inputs so it’s a lot more tense, I mean a street course there’s a lot more bumps and everything but you have the straightaways to take your time off and the corners are not usually as long of a duration and here it’s just really high speed and you’re just really tense up on the wheel the whole time.”
Friday’s three hour test session at Iowa allowed Frederick to turn 153 laps, two fewer laps than both of his teammates turned combined. He learned numerous things during that test.
“Biggest thing that I learned was that you want to basically keep your minimum speed as high as possible. At the beginning I was driving into the corner harder than both of my teammates. I was just getting off too much on (the) throttle which was dragging down my minimum speed and then I wouldn’t make it up the rest of the way out of the corner so they were just keeping their minimum speed up a little bit and that was where I was struggling.”