Josef Newgarden

NEWTON, Iowa – More bumps plus less downforce equals increased excitement at Iowa Speedway.

That’s the consensus following opening practice on Saturday for the Iowa Corn 300, the 11th race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden led the 22-car field in the 60-minute session, the only practice prior to Verizon P1 Award qualifying in the afternoon.

IOWA CORN 300: Practice 1 results; Qualifying order

Driving the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden toured the 0.894-mile oval at 183.711 mph (17.5188 seconds) early in the practice. Teammate Will Power was second fastest at 183.440 mph on the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, with three-time Iowa race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay third in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport (183.196 mph).

“Didn't have any major issues, and I think we're off to a good start, so excited about that,” Newgarden said. “Mainly we're working on qualifying, just trying to get that right to start out.

“I think us testing here (last week) is a benefit,” added Newgarden, the 2016 Iowa winner when he led a record 282 laps. “You would think testing is automatically always a benefit, but I think it's more important this year just because it's a new car and Iowa is its own animal.”

The bullring Iowa oval is noted for its bumps all the way around – with a particular notable jolt in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 that has unsettled many an Indy car over the years. AJ Foyt Racing rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist may have become its latest victim. He lost control of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet 15 minutes into the practice and backed it into the SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 2.

Simon Pagenaud“To be honest, I still don’t really know what happened,” Leist said after being cleared from the infield medical center. “I just lost the rear coming out of Turn 2. I’m a little bit disappointed for myself and the team.

“We’ve got some work to do but, you know, this is racing. This is an oval and sometimes things like this happen, so now looking forward to qualifying and race more. It’s tough. It’s actually the first time I’ve crashed on an oval so it’s a weird feeling, but it’s on to the next step.”

Along with Hunter-Reay – who won at Iowa in 2012, ’14 and ’15, in addition to finishing third a year ago – Newgarden has been the most successful driver at Iowa in recent years. In the past four races, he’s finished second, second, first and sixth.

Newgarden still finds it challenging, particularly with the 2018 Indy car and its universal aero kit being used in competition for the first time at the facility producing significantly less downforce than the previous-generation car.

“Iowa is just crazy unique,” Newgarden said. “It's a lot bumpier, very different from a lane usage standpoint. The banking is different, the shaping, the whole thing. Iowa needs its own thing, and I think testing helped us a lot, so our car seems pretty fast to start.”

Championship leader Scott Dixon ran 11th in the practice. Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Ed Jones are among nine drivers entered this weekend who did not participate in a test last week at the track. One of three drivers this weekend who’s competed in all 11 previous Iowa races, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion knows the fastest way around Iowa Speedway on a qualifying lap.

“The ultimate lap time is entering (Turn 1) high, cutting right down, big bump at the apex between (Turns) 1 and 2,” Dixon said. “The front will take off a little bit, (you) try and hold onto it, keep your foot in the gas and get a good exit off of (Turn) 2.

“Big bumps down the back straight, too. This track has got a lot of character. Going into (Turn) 3, … it’s to the low line, trying to cut as much track distance as possible and trying to go flat. Then carry as much momentum all the way to the start/finish line – but it all happens in about 17 seconds, so it happens pretty fast.”

Qualifying starts at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday. It airs live on NBCSN and will also stream live on A final one-hour practice also streams live on beginning at 6:45 p.m.

Sunday’s 300-lap race will be carried live starting at 2 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.