IndyCar: Iowa ‘hot and not’ list

The 2015 IndyCar visit to Iowa provided thrilling racing and implications for the championship battle. Here we rate the drivers, teams and others who impressed and embarrassed.

Hot

Ryan Hunter Reay – how do they do it? Anonymous all season and then the magic happens finally in Iowa. There had been inklings at Fontana and Milwaukee but it seemed like Iowa might be the one place RHR and Andretti Autosport could get back to mixing it at the front.

This has been a very competitive season and we should not forget that. RHR’s drought is more a reflection on his usual high standards. Ending it was critical to salvaging something this season. Credit also to his crew as this was a team effort with continual adjustments to the Honda and on a night when many crews stumbled in the pits, they did not.

Josef Newgarden – without the ‘Andretti magic’ around Iowa, looked odds-on to claim his third win of a dream season. Few of the rough edges we’ve seen in previous seasons have been evident this year. Newgarden and his CFH Racing team put in a smooth, intelligent drive to second.

Closing out the season with more performances like Iowa will heap further pressure on team-mate and co-owner Ed Carpenter. Could we be seeing the finished article in Newgarden? Quite possibly.

Sage Karam – driving like a rookie who doesn’t care and wants to get himself more seat time next season. The exchanges between Karam and Ed Carpenter in the closing laps were a great metaphor for their respective careers: Karam fearless and desperate to show off his talent, Carpenter hesitant and expecting plenty of room.

Third is a great result for Karam as he tries to make up for the woeful performances earlier in the season. Another rookie with a smaller team would be ecstatic at this result but for one riding with Chip Ganassi and owning a big reputation/expectation, Karam is likely to feel relief more than anything else. Hilarious that he was not old enough to spray the champagne on the podium.

TK and Dixon – it would have been interesting to see them tackle the Andretti cars and Newgarden once the sun had completely set on Iowa. Initially they looked mighty and set for a pretty straightforward 1-2, barring issues and the Andrettis. Dixon’s late season title charge took a hit last. With Montoya out it was a great opportunity missed to cut the gap, particularly in light of how consistent the Colombian has been. Dixon is still in there with a shout but will be looking for more DNFs or low finishes from Montoya to have a chance without relying entirely on the season-finale double points.

Graham Rahal – I’m usually pretty hard on Graham for some of his moves and over aggression during races. This time Karam overshadowed him in that regard and Rahal Jr instead chose to put in a very mature performance.

As the only championship challenger to capitalise on Montoya’s retirement there is certainly great momentum with the Albany native. This kind of form allied to more issues with Montoya could set up a grandstand finish. It’s just a shame that grandstand finish could be at the exceptionally dull Sonoma.

American drivers – home drivers finally starting to come good this season. An American 1-2-3-4 can only be a good thing for the promotion of IndyCar domestically. A serious championship challenge from Rahal in the closing races could be even more valuable.

Ed Carpenter – purely for not turning his post-race ‘discussion’ with Sage Karam in to a NASCAR-style, Punch and Judy stage show. It might have meant the Iowa race failed to make the mainstream news but it was a classier way to deal with it.

Not

Sage Karam – really pushed the envelope and the patience/restraint of some drivers during the race. Running with an increasingly loose car in the closing stages the rookie relied at times on the reflexes and grace of others. A bit rough on Carpenter in the final laps but equally put moves in that we’re beautifully planned and executed – especially the move to take third from Munoz.

Penske – hot on the heels of a Milwaukee salvage job this was another race weekend to forget. Mechanical failure on Montoya’s car pitched him in to the wall and looked certain to destroy his championship points lead. The remaining Penske trio – despite Castroneves leading 50 laps – faded badly with various issues. Will Power’s title defense took another significant hit and now will need to dominate the remaining three races of the season and weave his usual magic at Sonoma.

Michael Andretti – some poor strategy calls ruined any chance Marco had of following Hunter Reay to the front. A big disappointment given how much of a confidence driver his son is.

Pippa Mann – at a time when talented drivers are struggling for rides (and even one-off races) due to lack of sponsorship, Mann’s ability to make the starting grid is astonishing. The encouragement and promotion of female racers is a good thing and critical to the survival of the sport (and IndyCar). However those drivers need to be good enough to race in the series and Mann quite frankly is not.

Only 3 races remaining in this ridiculously condensed season 😦

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