Hybrid cars debut on repaved Iowa Speedway during IndyCar tire test

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Photo by Philip Joens/The Register
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By Philip Joens, Des Moines Register

All 27 full-time IndyCar entries took the track at Iowa Speedway on Thursday for a Firestone tire test ahead of Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend in July.

Thursday was the first time since a partial repave of all four corners that IndyCar drivers took to Iowa Speedway, where the series has raced 19 times since 2007. It also marked the first time that IndyCar’s new hybrid cars were on the track. The top minor league IndyCar series, IndyNXT, was scheduled to test Friday.

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IndyCar is scheduled to race at the Speedway on July 13 at 7 p.m. and July 14. at 11 a.m. Tracks typically have more grip at night when the weather is cooler and less grip in hotter temperatures. The goal Thursday was for teams to hone their setups for both races.

Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward, generally considered the most popular driver in IndyCar, said the repave is “so fast,” but is still interesting.

“It is so, so, so fast. The bumps in turn one, two, three and four are magically gone. Straightaway was still a little bumpy. Pit out was still bumpy. So it’s still got some character, but the biggest thing is the (tire degradation) is close to none.”

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For the third straight year, West Des Moines-based grocer Hy-Vee will be the title sponsor and promoter. Iowa Speedway will be one of only four tracks to host the NASCAR Cup Series and NTT IndyCar Series this year, with the others being Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway and World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.

IndyCar drivers test repaved Iowa Speedway

In May, Iowa Speedway completed a partial repave of all four corners but left the front and back straightaways with their original pavement from 2006. Two-time reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden has won five of the seven IndyCar races at Iowa Speedway since 2019 and six of the 10 IndyCar races there since 2016. On Thursday, Newgarden said the track feels brand new.

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Before the repave, teams had their setups at Iowa honed, but the new surface threw teams for a loop.

“Iowa is a different race now,” Newgarden said. “It’s very smooth, it’s going to be a lot faster. The form that we had on the previous track was great, but now we’ve got to find a new form with this new track. I don’t think what worked last year is going to work this coming year.”

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Photo by Matt Fraver/IndyCar

Marcus Ericsson, the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner, said the repave “changed the track quite a bit.” So drivers and teams spent the day learning.

“It’s super smooth, very high-speed in the corners. Then you have the bumpy straights. So it’s really created quite an interesting way to drive this track.”

Christian Lundgaard, driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee-sponsored Honda, said the repave should help his team.

“As a team, we’ve struggled here in the past. With the repave it’s a benefit for us,” Lundgaard said. “We seem to be a lot stronger and it’s moved our potential forward. Being the home man you want to perform well here.”

Hybrid cars make Iowa Speedway debut

IndyCar’s new hybrid system combines the car’s 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engines with a small 48-volt motor and an energy storage system. The system will not have full-battery packs like hybrid cars. Drivers can store and create energy by braking, or deploy the energy for an extra boost.

The hybrid system is similar to the series’ push-to-pass system, used only on road and street courses, which gives drivers 50 extra horsepower while deployed. On Thursday, the system made its Iowa Speedway debut

The hybrid system was added to the series’ DW12 chassis, which have been in use since 2012. An aeroscreen was also added to the existing chassis in 2020.

The hybrid system is about the size of a milk crate, according to IndyCar. The system was scheduled to be ready at the start of the 2024 season. But after months of delays, the system will make its debut at the Mid-Ohio road course next weekend.

Photo by Matt Fraver/IndyCar

Drivers praise Iowa Speedway before race

When IndyCar returned to Iowa Speedway in 2022 after falling off the 2021 schedule, the event received rave reviews from drivers and teams alike. The event proved so successful that eventually, NASCAR awarded the track its first-ever Cup Series race.

Ryan Blaney, who has strong Iowa ties, won the inaugural Iowa Corn 350 on June 16, which also drew rave reviews from fans and drivers. On Thursday, workers at the track were busy transforming it to suit IndyCar. Mini Hy-Vee convenience stores were placed around the track, and temporary suites in turn four were being built.

Luke Combs, Eric Church, Post Malone and Kelsea Ballerini will also perform during race weekend. O’Ward said it’s clear that drivers love coming to Iowa Speedway.

Photo by Matt Fraver/IndyCar

“You can tell that they’re committed to making it the best event that they can, and they’ve somehow packed up a place two days in a row in Newton, Iowa,” O’Ward said. “With the artists they bring, they make it really special.”

All four races since 2022 were during the day. Graham Rahal, who Hy-Vee is an associate sponsor for, said he’s excited to have a night race this year.

“Night races here are a blast. They are the best part of this track. I think the fans are going to love Saturday night way better than what we were doing before,” Rahal said. “Even Sunday is 11 a.m. it’s an early start. So the conditions should be a lot friendlier than what we experienced last year.”

Photo by Matt Fraver/IndyCar

Philip Joens covers retail and real estate for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-284-8184, [email protected] or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

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