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Preview: HyVee IndyCar weekend at Iowa Speedway

Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Iowa plays host to a double-header this season. Credit - Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It's finally time for some Short Speedway action, as the NTT IndyCar Series heads to the Iowa Speedway for Rounds 11 and 12 of the 2023 championship. With double the points opportunities available this weekend, as Iowa will host two races, with 500 miles of action over the weekend to look forward to, the main question is - will anyone be able to trump Josef Newgarden at Iowa?


You'll notice the change in my introduction - as someone was finally able to stop Alex Palou. The man? Christian Lundgaard - who made the Streets of Toronto his own, dominating the event to finally claim a 1st NTT IndyCar Series victory - a result that was a long time coming, despite all the turmoil endured by the Dane and the RLL team all year.


But Palou wouldn't be trumped too easily either, the Spaniard finishing second against all the odds - having qualified 16th, after getting caught out by the spontaneous shower, and completing half the race with a heavily dislodged front wing - yet again, an incredible display of consistency and driving talent. With his championship 'contenders' hitting further trouble, Palou now lies 117 points ahead in the championship. For context, he could miss the Iowa weekend and still be in the lead of the standings.

Lundgaard had a field day at Toronto last weekend. Image credit - Icon Sportsware

The man who now lies behind him in second is Scott Dixon, who recovered to fourth after a rare Chip Ganassi team strategy blunder that cycled him to the mid-pack. Yet, the Kiwi continued his consistency to finish just behind Colton Herta, who finally picked up his first podium this season, following an upturn in form.


Talking of strategy blunders, both Will Power and Marcus Ericsson suffered a disastrous day - both having to pit on the final lap after they failed to meet their fuel number, cycling them down to 11th and 14th, after they had been challenging for the podium - the defending champion's season went from bad to worse.


It wouldn't be any better for the other championship outsiders, as Josef Newgarden and Pato O'Ward both suffered fuel-related issues, cycling them down the order - on a Sunday that looked crucial to both drivers if they were to be in any sort of championship hunt - but both will be craving IndyCar's visit to Iowa, the two being the defending race winners, with O'Ward and Newgarden remarkably sharing the last seven non-Indy 500 oval victories between them.


But let's look forward to Iowa, a ⅞ of a mile oval, with drivers turning left for 94% of the lap, and lap times under 20 seconds, with the circuit reaching a banking upto 14°


And who else to beat but Josef Newgarden? Iowa last year was his only non-victory on a short oval since Gateway Race one in 2020 - and that was only due to having a mechanical failure from the lead. Newgarden has a record four wins here: 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022, and it looks a very tall order for someone to challenge him here this year, not only when you look at his Iowa record - but his oval form. Newgarden could very well sweep all the ovals this year.


Look out for Ryan Hunter-Reay too, a three-time winner in 2012, 2014, and 2015, and will be looking to turn around his tough start at Ed Carpenter Racing. Helio Castroneves has won here too, back in 2017 for Team Penske, and as mentioned, Pato O'Ward took home Race two after Newgarden's troubles following a suspension failure.


The other Iowa winner in the pack is Simon Pagenaud, who went from last to first here in 2020, although he will still not return to action this weekend, following that monster crash in Mid-Ohio, after which he wasn't declared fit for Toronto. Pagenaud was replaced by Tom Blomqvist - who is heavily rumoured for Castroneves' seat in 2024 - although the Briton found himself in the wall in the Lap one melee. Blomqvist looks unlikely to do ovals next year - and his replacement for the weekend is his Mid-Ohio stand-in, Conor Daly, who was around the team in Toronto, and is often regarded as a strong oval specialist.


Talking of oval specialists, Ed Carpenter will also be back in the #33 car as usual, with Takuma Sato the other stand-in for Marcus Armstrong, after Sato was announced to do the remaining ovals at Iowa and Gateway - a slight surprise after Armstrong was heavily rumoured to continue.


But who should we look for? Team Penske is an obvious choice - Newgarden is by far and away the favourite, and both McLaughlin and Power were very strong here last year. Penske have seen a small upturn in form in recent events, and Iowa has been a very happy hunting ground. Arrow McLaren are still waiting on a race victory this year, and Pato O'Ward will be leading the charge as he looks to end his win drought after a pretty frustrating season. McLaren's oval package has been very strong this year, and although Rosenqvist and Rossi have historically been stronger at super speedways, they could still be an outside shot.

O'Ward will look to put his ovals form to the test, and win at Iowa. Image - Icon Sportsware

Alex Palou has never been regarded as a strong short oval racer, and he's not fancied this weekend either, but a look at the Spaniard’s recent form suggests - there wouldn't be a huge surprise if he could pull something out the bag yet again. Scott Dixon has been remarkably consistent this year too - Iowa could well see him return to the top step of the podium if he continues his form.


But there's two key things to look out for this weekend. RLL have had a huge upturn in form in recent races, signified by Lundgaard's win at Toronto, with even Graham Rahal having a strong show out in recent races. But their oval form has been a huge issue in the last year or so. The Indianapolis 500 nightmare has been well documented enough, but form at Texas, as well as the short ovals last year is particularly worrying for RLL, but will their upturn in road and street form reflect on the ovals? If it does, it would be a giant step forward for the team, and can finally fully recover from their slump.


The other man? Romain Grosjean. Grosjean's 2023 form has been woeful. From a genuine championship contender at the start of the season, to someone lying one place in front of a non-qualifier for the Indy 500 in the standings. 10 races, 5 retirements, only two Top 10s - none since Barber. All his non-finishes have been the cause of his own undoing, and when his seat is on the line, it's going to be a crucial weekend. Grosjean had a good run last season at Iowa, but with his tendency to have accidents - particularly on ovals, this weekend will be a huge story.


So much to look forward to at Iowa. Can O'Ward break his duct? What will RLL look like? Can Grosjean finally string some form together - but most importantly, can anyone catch Josef Newgarden? The short oval at Iowa holds all the answers to these questions.

Newgarden will be looking to continue his stupendous oval form; Image credit - Icon Sportsware

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