Iowa Speedway is back on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule this season after a one-year hiatus, so 19 drivers took advantage of a private test Monday, June 20 at the .875-mile oval to prepare for the HyVeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash on Saturday, July 23 and the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google on Sunday, July 24.
Official times and speeds were not released, but here are five takeaways based on media reports and social media traffic from the test:
Penske Stays Dominant at Iowa
Team Penske has ruled NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing at Iowa since 2017, with victories in four of the five races during that span.
It doesn’t look like that trend will change next month, based on testing Monday.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin were the three fastest among the 19 drivers who turned laps in morning and afternoon sessions. Newgarden led in the morning session, while McLaughlin was tops in the afternoon with a time just shy of two-tenths of a second slower than Newgarden’s overall best.
Penske swept the Iowa doubleheader with Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden the last time the series raced there, in 2020, which was with the current spec of car, including the aeroscreen. So, don’t be surprised to see a repeat July 23-24.
Testing was split into morning and afternoon sessions Monday at Iowa. Both races of the July 23-24 doubleheader will take the green flag in the afternoon, so a glimpse at the afternoon results may present a clearer crystal ball about who will be fast when points are on the line.
McLaughlin was fastest in the afternoon in his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet despite this being his first experience at the track. Following McLaughlin were Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and Takuma Sato’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with RWR. Newgarden was fifth in the afternoon session, less than two-tenths behind McLaughlin.
Temperatures in the afternoon snuck just past the 90-degree mark, conditions that could be repeated next month. So, morning or afternoon, Penske will be tough to top at Iowa.
Lundgaard Learning Quickly
It wasn’t a surprise to see Sato among the leading Penske trio in the afternoon portion of the test. He’s a two-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner, after all, and his “no attack, no chance” style squeezes plenty of speed on ovals.
But rookie Christian Lundgaard probably raised some eyebrows by clocking in fourth overall during the afternoon session in his No. 30 Fleet Cost & Care Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Lundgaard was the fastest rookie in the afternoon by nearly two-tenths of a second.
A strong performance by Lundgaard in the Iowa races could lift the spirits and expectations at RLL, which has a best finish of seventh (twice) this season by Graham Rahal. There always seems to be one rookie each season who connects with oval racing quickly, and RLL hopes this year’s model is Lundgaard.
Ericsson Hanging Tough
Marcus Ericsson has used a double-points victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and steady finishes elsewhere to build a 27-point lead in the race for the Astor Challenge Cup this season.
Part of his success story is strong performance on ovals. Ericsson came to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES from the oval-free Formula One, but he’s been the best driver this season in the two roundy-round races. He finished third behind Newgarden and McLaughlin in the XPEL 375 on March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway and won Indy.
Ericsson was seventh quickest overall during Iowa testing Monday afternoon, when conditions probably were most similar to what drivers will experience in the doubleheader July 23-24. He was about three-tenths of a second behind McLaughlin’s leading pace, so there is work to do.
But Ericsson was quickest of the four Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the afternoon session, so it appears he’s in good shape for more oval success next month.
Iowa Speedway is a classic bullring, just seven-eighths of a mile. A complete lap in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car only takes about 18.5 seconds, so it’s not uncommon to see big lap counts during testing at the track.
But even by those standards, drivers and teams worked at a brisk pace Monday, with triple-digit lap counts all over the board.
Power was the busiest driver, turning 282 laps. The two races will be 250 and 300 laps, respectively.
All three Team Penske drivers each turned more than 200 laps Monday, dialing in setups. Power is second in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship standings, 27 points behind leader Ericsson. Newgarden is third, 32 points out of the lead.
But Newgarden is the driver of the moment in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, with three victories this season. No other driver has more than one.
Newgarden also has three career INDYCAR SERIES victories at Iowa, tied with Ryan Hunter-Reay for the most series victories at the track. Safe to say the entire field will have its collective eye on the surging Joe New at Iowa.