By: Tanner Watkins
July 18, 2019 | 1:00 PM
For the first time since 2015, open-wheel racing will battle under the lights at Iowa Speedway this weekend when the NTT IndyCar Series rolls into town.
Over the past few years, Iowa’s date on the IndyCar calendar had been a Sunday afternoon affair – its hallmarks being scorching-hot track temperatures and slightly decreased attendance. Drivers and fans alike yearned for a return to night racing at the 7/8-mile track, and they have finally gotten their wish.
Serving as the 12th race in the 2019 season, Iowa could be a turning point in the championship for drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon – either positively or negatively.
For Dixon in particular, the return to evening racing conditions at Iowa is not only an opportunity to reward the fans that have been attending the event recently.
“I really love this event and especially the fans that attend – they really love Indy car racing and show their support,” Dixon said earlier this week. “I’m glad we’re back to a Saturday night race. This track always presents a unique challenge.”
Conversely, young guns such as Colton Herta and Matheus Leist have yet to race at Iowa under the lights. Since the last three races at this venue have been in the daytime, it presents an opportunity to grab a strong finish for each of the developing drivers – even if it has been mighty tough sledding for Leist’s No. 4 team.
“I think the Iowa race being a night race now will be more interesting,” said Leist. “I think the fans can expect some more entertainment than last year… let’s see how it goes. (I’m) looking forward to it.”
For Herta, the excitement for Iowa began with an Indy Lights appearance at the track last year.
“I’m looking forward to racing at Iowa Speedway again. I ran there in Indy Lights last year and loved it,” the rookie race-winner stated. “I’m especially looking forward to the added horsepower that INDYCAR is putting in the Honda engines. And we’re finally racing at night at Iowa Speedway which will be a lot of fun.
“I think racing at night will open up the second lane which will hopefully allow more passing and create a great show for the fans.”
Graham Rahal was keen to echo Herta’s sentiments this week. The No. 15 Honda driver is expecting the lower track temperatures to put on a better show than in years’ past, despite the increasing bumpiness in Iowa’s track surface.
“(Iowa) always puts on a great race and having it on Saturday night will be even better, so I’m excited,” Rahal proclaimed. “We’ve had some good results there before. We’ve been competitive (at Iowa) and expect to be competitive this time around and will try to get a win there.
“At night, the track cools down and it’s a greater spectacle, there is more passing but overall it is just a greater spectacle to watch and be a part of.”
But while all the excitement is centered around IndyCar’s increased horsepower at the short oval and a return to night racing, perhaps the only driver not amused at the changes is James Hinchcliffe – last year’s Iowa winner.
“Iowa has been good to us in the past, so we always look forward to getting back there. It kind of sucks that the race we were particularly strong at last year has had the most changes, having a higher boost level and moving to a night race,” Hinch added.
“But even with that, I’m confident that we can roll off with a strong No. 5 Arrow car. Marcus (Ericsson) had a great test here a few weeks ago so hopefully, we can have the same form we had here last season.”
The move back to a night race at Iowa was necessary – and the early returns have been mostly positive. While Iowa Speedway was unable to secure a race title sponsor after Iowa Corn left the event following a multi-year partnership, Adam Stern of SBJ reported earlier this week that ticket sales have seen a slight uptick.
Hopefully the weather is great on Saturday night, cools down a bit from the forecasted daytime highs, and brings in a great walk-up crowd to watch some of the best drivers in the world duke it out under the lights.
Header image by Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR.