07.12.2017 – As I’ve said many times, I love the event at Iowa Speedway. I’m a short track guy at heart, and Iowa is certainly a short track for the Verizon IndyCar Series. I’ve been on pit lane with IndyCar Radio for the last three IndyCar races there, and I just love the atmosphere and the on-track product. That said, it was hot and humid once again, and this time, I had to endure a weekend-long chest cold, hacking cough and a disappearing voice come Sunday. Still, it was a great weekend and much of that can be attributed to the fact that the MRTI events were exactly what I was looking for. Iowa cannot be tabbed as a ‘short track’ for the ladder series, but it still presents a challenge, none the less. I wanted a clean USF2000 race with no incidents and I hoped for another thrilling battle in Indy Lights, similar to last year’s scrap between Zach Veach and Felix Serralles. I got both of my wishes, so I’ll give the event a thumbs up.
The Indy Lights Mazda Iowa 100 Presented by Cooper Tires was exactly what I hoped it would be. There was thrilling side-by-side racing, some impressive drives up through the field, and no major incidents. Carlin’s Matheus Leist was masterful yet again, and he’s fully leveraging the very stout piece of machinery he gets to buckle into each weekend. Leist simply powered around the competition on the race’s only restart and walked away to the win. It was a dominant performance.
My Star of the Race, however, needed to work harder coming from deep in the field. For the second straight event, I need to put the spotlight on Belardi Auto Racing’s Santiago Urrutia. The fiery Uruguayan struggled in qualifying, but was a bullet in the race, driving from 11th to challenge for eighth immediately. After an early race caution, Urrutia made his way to sixth and then after getting past Zachary Claman DeMelo and Colton Herta, he reeled in the battle between Kyle Kaiser and Dalton Kellett. Santi made a daring move around the outside of Kaiser after Kyle had been passed by Kellett and then Urrutia waged an entertaining battle with the Canadian for the second position. Urrutia eventually completed the pass on Kellett with a decisive slide job move in T3-4 after running side-by-side for two laps. It was beautiful to watch. This was a crucial run for Urrutia to close some ground in the points, with Kaiser finishing ninth after fading in the late-going.
Iowa Speedway represents the lone oval race for the young drivers in the USF2000 program and those who entered in the event proved their career aspirations to me. If you want to be a Verizon IndyCar Series driver, you need oval experience from the get-go. The 13 drivers who raced at Iowa did a tremendous job, especially those running with the new teams, which had little to no set-up data coming into the event. The 60-lap race went green-to-checker, which was a huge positive for the series and the paddock.
My Star of the Race is winner Oliver Askew. As you all know, I don’t normally pick the victor, but in the absence of any clear highlight performance through the field, Askew’s flawless drive from pole is certainly worthy of the shout-out. Askew and his Cape Motorsports team were certainly not the frontrunners through Friday afternoon testing or Saturday practice, but they made the right adjustments for Sunday morning two-lap qualifying and the talented young American put it on the pole with a clean effort. Oliver handled the start well, pulled away to a comfortable gap, and worked the lapped traffic like a pro. For a driver who was dealt a poor hand at Road America, this comeback performance was noteworthy.
It’s now time to get down to business, as the challenging streets of Toronto are next on the schedule and the championship is starting to heat up.